Disappearing act Questions surround Simmons bench time

It has been a puzzling season for Jeremie Simmons.After averaging more than 22 minutes a game last season, the senior guard expected to play a big role for the Buckeyes in his final season in Columbus. However, for one reason or another, that has not been the case. Simmons’ role on the team has dwindled more and more as the season has progressed and during the last two weeks he has played a little more than eight minutes a night. For a Buckeye team that already lacks depth, playing seven or eight players a game, Simmons’ disappearing act is difficult to explain.At first glance, it may seem that the lack of playing time is directly linked to Simmons’ recent shooting woes. Since the start of Big Ten play in late December, he has been ice cold from the field, shooting just six of 27, including two of 17 from beyond the 3-point line. The 22 percent effort does not exactly fit the role coach Thad Matta had in mind. “We need him to make shots for us,” Matta said. “That’s what he does and he’s very good at it.”Unfortunately for Matta and the Buckeyes, Simmons has not been “very good at it” lately and for nearly a month he has simply struggled to put the ball in the basket.After he played just four minutes during OSU’s game at Purdue two weeks ago and just five minutes the following game against Wisconsin, it seemed as though Simmons’ difficulties had earned him a seat on the Buckeye bench. Although Matta acknowledged Simmons’ shooting woes, the coach was not willing to link them with his decreasing minutes. When asked if there was a reason why Simmons played so little in the games against Purdue and Wisconsin, the coach replied that, “no, there really wasn’t,” but did suggest that the extended stints on the bench may have been due to injury. Neither Simmons nor Matta had made any mention of an injury in the past and when asked what specifically Simmons was dealing with, Matta said that he didn’t know exactly what it was. Athletics spokesman Dan Wallenberg, who works closely with the men’s basketball team, did his best to explain. “It’s a nerve thing, so he should be OK,” Wallenberg said. “[It’s] nothing that’s going to last very long.”With the uncertainty surrounding the injury, Simmons’ role on the team was still unclear going into the Buckeyes’ home game against Northwestern last Tuesday. Simmons played 16 minutes against the Wildcats, but missed all four of his shots from the field, including all three of his 3-point attempts. Although there was no visible evidence that Simmons was battling injury, Matta again said that the senior was not 100 percent healthy. “He’s still banged up, I guess it’s the best way to put it,” Matta said. “But I still don’t know exactly what it is.”His playing time increased against Northwestern but his peculiar injury still remained as the Buckeyes prepared to play at West Virginia on Saturday. Simmons spent the majority of Saturday’s game on the bench, playing only eight minutes in the Buckeyes’ loss to the Mountaineers, and again failed to make a field goal. It was a game that OSU led by 12 at the half, but ran out of gas down the stretch before losing 71-65.The Buckeyes only used seven players in the loss, a lack of depth that appeared costly as the game went on and West Virginia mounted a comeback. The lack of support from the reserves in a time when it seemed vital to the team’s success raised even more questions regarding Simmons’ perplexing absence. It would seem as though, with the bulk of the conference schedule on the horizon, the Buckeyes could certainly use some help off the bench. But whether Simmons is really battling some undetermined injury, or if he is simply just not playing well enough, one thing is clear: Matta is not hesitant to limit the senior’s role if he deems it necessary.Although Matta made it clear that he would like for Simmons to have a bigger role in the team, much of the onus falls on Simmons to get himself back at a level capable of significant contribution. With so much uncertainty surrounding what exactly is holding him back, there is no definite timetable for increased minutes.When asked whether a spike in Simmons’ playing time is in the near future, Matta simply replied “I hope so.”