BIG TEN Hoops Season Preview
No McGary. No Worries.
Mitch McGary was a huge bonus to the University of Michigan basketball team. Don’t get me wrong. He consistently finished strong under the hoop to the tune of at least ten points a game and got the fast break going often – a testament to his tenacious rebounding as he corralled over 8 boards a game (including 3 on the offensive side). On the defensive side, his energy and quick hands (42 steals and 28 blocks) are tough to imitate. However, Michigan has a couple elder statesmen ready to go for the full marathon competition that is the Big Ten basketball schedule.
Starting off is redshirt senior 6’8” forward Jordan Morgan. While liable to explode in the pick n roll game against lesser teams (he once scored 27 against Northwestern) he hasn’t ever averaged more than 10 points per game in a season. While unfortunate to not have a weapon in the paint, Michigan’s offense relies on scoring from its wings and guards, which I will talk about in a minute.
However average on offense Morgan may be, he has an established track record on defense as a coach’s dream because he always boxes out and is a solid hustler. His first season on the court as a redshirt freshman, he played significant minutes helping Michigan to a series sweep against a hugely talented MSU frontcourt of Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne, Delvon Roe, and led by consensus All-American Draymond Green. As a steady force in the paint for 4 years, Morgan is well equipped to handle those defensive responsibilities smartly.
6’10” redshirt junior Jon Horford has always been more athletic and is a better shooter than Morgan. However, a couple unfortunate knee injuries hampered his development with the nuances of the games by keeping him off the court against real competition. Whereas Morgan struggles on offense against tall crowds under the hoop (especially trying to catch short, quick passes) Horford can finish through defenders. He is faster and has more hop in his step, but with a knack for picking up fouls early and often he can’t be relied on as a go-to scorer. While he is yet to sustain demonstrated success with the pick n roll, there’s an opportunity for huge improvements in his game as the year goes on and he develops chemistry with the point guards. Some plays, Horford will dunk down a powerful jam, teasing the potential that makes him a valuable player. Some plays, he is visibly overmatched.
Since John Beilein’s offense traditionally doesn’t run through its lone post position, many of McGary’s points were in the form of his own high energy ability to create opportunities like put-backs. The Michigan offense is led by 45 points of scoring per game from Nik Stauskus, Glenn Robinson III, and Caris Levert. The two point guards, Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton Jr, put in another 10 points per game together while performing their main job admirably – preventing turnovers. In other words, we’ve got some guys that can score the ball.
The key question for Michigan this year now revolves around bouncing back from losing one of its leaders. McGary’s defense is replaceable, but having one less big in the rotation can always hurt when foul trouble strikes. 6’7” redshirt sophomore Max Bielfeldt will bear some of the load on that front. What may be less replaceable is the heart McGary plays the game with – shown when he is hustling to save balls from going out of bounds and getting on the floor when there is a loose ball to secure an extra possession. McGary is immensely talented, but Coach Beilein’s offense doesn’t require a game-changing big. The game plans will be adjusted to account for his missed presence. And opposing players are probably glad they don’t have to guard him. When he committed to play at the University of Michigan, everyone on campus celebrated like it was a terrific day. And rightfully so! He was crucial to Michigan’s national runner-up finish in 2013.
The verdict on losing McGary is that Michigan will survive, but losing him is losing a potentially game-changing mismatch against teams day in and day out. Over the course of the Big Ten schedule, it may result in an extra loss or two, but Coach Beilein was playing with house money before and knows how to prepare a strategy for his team in any lineup. With McGary, Michigan is 12-6 in the Big Ten and in the tournament for sure. Without him, a tournament bid is very much still in order but expect some rough patches where his energy is missed. Michigan should still finish the Big Ten season 10-8 or better.