ANN ARBOR - For the second time in this young season the Michigan basketball team is entering a landmark, measuring-stick week of games.
Beginning with tonight's road matchup against Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Saturday's home game against No. 4 Duke, the Wolverines will again have a chance to make statements on the national stage. Just two weeks ago, UM beat then-No. 4 UCLA and lost to Duke at New York's Madison Square Garden.
The Wolverines (5-1) have already won half as many games as they did all of last year. A win or two this week would greatly help UM in its quest to go from a doormat to an NCAA tournament participant.
While there is much reason for excitement in Ann Arbor, coach John Beilein said the Wolverines are grounded heading into tonight's contest. Needing a last-second basket in overtime to beat Savannah State last weekend can do that to a club.
"I think the Savannah State game brought us back to reality a little bit," Beilein said. "That would've been quite a letdown for a while. That would've been one that's tough to recover from."
UM overcame a 20-point deficit against Savannah State last Saturday and forged a 66-64 victory with DeShawn Sims' shot with 0.8 seconds left in overtime.
Despite that close call, the Wolverines received 18 votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and would likely earn a ranking with a combination of wins and strong play against two perennial basketball powers.
"People want Michigan to succeed," Sims said. "As much as the nation and everybody around wants us to succeed, we have to do the job, by succeeding and making it happen. I look around and see so much Michigan stuff everywhere I go. It just puts it in my heart that we have to bring the program back for the fans."
Sims and Manny Harris are far and away UM's statistical leaders, yet Sims is producing off the bench. Harris, a starting wing, is averaging 22.3 points and eight rebounds, while Sims is contributing 15.2 points and eight boards as a reserve post player.
Beilein said he is considering moving Sims into the starting lineup to maximize his production and bringing Zack Gibson off the bench. The coach also said the Wolverines need points from elsewhere - most notably from freshmen sharpshooters Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, who has 19 points in his last two games.
Maryland opened the season 4-0 and spanked Michigan State 80-62 on Thanksgiving Day, but lost the following day to Gonzaga and on Monday to Georgetown. Greivis Vasquez has been the Terrapins' top player with 17 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Duke beat UM 71-56 on Nov. 21 in the final round of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler had 16 and 15 points, respectively, for the Blue Devils in that game.
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