"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
Those Who Stay Will Be Champions, only we know that's not true. Maybe it's true in some metaphorical sense, but in terms of the record books, many have stayed and left empty-handed. Decades worth of seniors have walked off the court on Senior Day to a warm applause and a chanted name, but with neither rings on their fingers nor banners in the rafters. Fans faithfully applauded their play, their effort, and their loyalty. And they did so with genuine appreciation, but often with a vague sense of sadness. Not pity, of course; these were proud warriors who each left their marks on the program in their own ways. But sadness nonetheless.
Most college athletes also don't get the chance to walk off the court on their own terms. Some early-entrants get to choose when to move on, but for the majority their time in uniform is determined by the ticking clock of NCAA eligibility. From the day they step on campus, time ticks away, and wherever they are when it hits zero, that's the end. For the kids who have been put upon by the cruelties of college athletics, whether from injury, the unforgiving depth chart, or the zero-sum nature of sport, their departure evokes a sense of "not yet." The clock doesn't care if you tweaked an ulnar nerve, or if you have one more great game in you, or if you have that one thing left to do. When the music stops playing, wherever you are, you have to sit down.
Jordan Morgan’s place in the firmament of Michigan basketball was set. He sat alongside Stu Douglass and Zack Novak in the realm of those who brought Michigan back. They were the scrappy insurgents. The relentless challengers to the Big Ten hierarchy. Their names would be uttered along with phrases like “laid the groundwork” and “revived the program.” They would be looked upon with great appreciation, and a wistful ‘remember when’ sentiment reserved for the Little Engines who do.
They weren’t the ones who could climb the mountain, of course. Such feats are left to the Trey Burkes of the world. But they would effort up the mountain nonetheless, and make others believe it was possible to reach the summit.
Morgan’s ascent reached its peak last year at Illinois. Early in the first half, he jumped to take a pass in the post, and his chapter of Michigan basketball ended in a heap on a distant orange floor.
It seemed unfair, but at the same time somehow inevitable. For many, Morgan was merely keeping the seat warm as they awaited the full and rapturous arrival of Mitch McGary. McGary was everything Morgan wasn’t; he was rangy and athletic, he had excellent hands and a soft shooting touch, and he had a diverse offensive game. And more importantly, he came in with the guru-approved bona fides proclaiming him to be the kind of guy around whom you can form a championship team. Basketball is, at the very upper echelons, a ‘Jimmys and Joes’ sport. It is a race for thoroughbreds, not workhorses. And as much fun as the 2012 team was, there was always something unsustainable about it. Talent brings stability. Talent brings banners. Talent builds programs.
From the beginning, Jordan Morgan wasn’t brought in to bring Michigan to the next level. Truth be told, when Morgan committed to Michigan in December of 2007, Michigan didn’t have a level. They were in freefall, and to the extent a 10-22 season can have a “rough stretch,” Morgan committed in the middle of it.
Morgan was a lightly recruited, undersized center out of UofD Jesuit. He was the one of the first commitments John Beilein landed as Michigan’s head coach, beating out the likes of Oakland and Central Michigan for his services. And believe it or not, there was a time before Caris LeVert and Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway and Darius Morris when Michigan fans did not take the hidden but certain genius of John Beilein’s recruiting as fait accompli. Some questioned the offer, and few expected much, especially with the likes of Robin Benzing and Ben Cronin coming in ahead of him. All Michigan fans knew about Beilein and big men was Kevin Pittsnogle, and Jordan Morgan was most certainly not Kevin Pittsnogle.
However, because of Benzing’s eligibility issues and Cronin’s hip, Morgan found himself starting as a redshirt freshman in 2010-11. And all he did was score 9.2 points per game (third on the team) and shoot 62.7% from the field while grabbing 5.6 rebounds a game. It was quickly apparent that he was a master at executing the pick-and-roll, especially in concert with Darius Morris. Morgan had a knack for slipping the screen perfectly and converting. He was also a sound post defender and a physical presence on a team that desperately needed one. The biggest knock on Morgan was that he picked up cheap fouls. In other words, people were mad because he wasn’t on the court enough.
But then Morris left for the NBA. Morgan never quite found the same rhythm with Trey Burke, who was more of a creator off the dribble and relied less on ball screens. Often it was Morgan’s job to just get out of the way, or to clean up the pieces left in Burke's wake. The team flourished, and Morgan was a big part of it, but once again words like “ceiling” began to creep into peoples’ descriptions of the state of his game. Michigan needed a stretch big. They needed a McGary.
Morgan returned to the lineup a couple of games after his injury at Illinois, but it was clear that his days were numbered. A bum ankle sapped his game, and something sapped his confidence. His production dipped, as did his minutes. And then came the event that seemed sure to define Jordan Morgan’s time at Michigan.
You see, legacies are not abstract. You can’t remember the hundreds of plays, good and bad, that a player made over his career. Instead, you need a moment in time that conflates what that player did and who that player was. He was the quiet unassuming guy who hit a shot to beat a hated rival. He was the gritty sparkplug whose aneurysm of leadership triggered a memorable tide-turning win. He was the bulldog who carried a team into the Elite Eight by the force of his will. For Morgan, that moment was one that threatened to etch itself in Michigan infamy from the moment it occurred. It demonstrated how far Morgan had helped to take Michigan, but at the same time suggested he couldn’t take them all the way.
“Remember when Jordan Morgan missed that tip?”
Of course, that narrative is as stupid as it is myopic. There were dozens of reasons Michigan lost that game to Indiana, and Morgan's contributions far exceeded one agonizing roll of The Rock. He was the starting center and played over 24 minutes per game for a team that won the Big Ten two years ago. He notched a double-double and held Jared Sullinger largely in check during a program-lifting win over #9 Ohio State that year. And he was still the starting center when Michigan strolled into, and Morgan subsequently limped out of, Champaign as the #2 team in the country last year.
But complexity is the enemy of legacy. Bill Buckner wasn’t a career .289 hitter with over 2,700 career hits. He was the guy who booted that grounder. Chris Webber was among the best big men in Big Ten history, but his abilities on the basketball court are always the third thing mentioned. And I dare you to name two field goals Scott Norwood ever kicked.
So when Mitch McGary tore through the NCAA tournament like an over-exuberant puppy, and promptly announced that he would return to reprise that role as a sophomore, Morgan’s legacy was sealed. He would play as a senior, but he would be a role guy. A glue guy. A program guy. He would get a nice hand on Senior Day, of course, and there would be a genuine appreciation for his role. There would be mutterings in the crowd about engineering degrees, and about that Big Ten title, and about how it seemed he had been there forever. And about that missed tip.
Morgan could have done a lot of things this year. He could have transferred and been immediately eligible to play somewhere where he wouldn’t be behind a preseason All-American. Or he could have taken his engineering degree and started a career. Instead, he chose to stay and play.
And once again, Morgan found himself starting and playing the lion’s share of the minutes at center. The emergence of Nik Stauskas as the primary offensive weapon saw a return to the pick-and-roll days that treated Morgan so well as a freshman a hundred years ago. He remained Michigan’s best interior defender, as well as its best ball screen defender. He accumulated the fourth best offensive rebounding rate of anyone in the Big Ten and twelfth best defensive rebounding rate. He shot 67.4% from the field, easily the best on the team.
There is something equally unfair, and yet strangely gratifying, about Jordan Morgan’s latest trip to Illinois. He returned to the spot of his apparent basketball swan song, this time not as the weak link but as the undisputed leader of a team poised to plant a flag firmly where it hadn’t waved in his lifetime. And sure enough, a few minutes in he was hurt stepping in to take a charge because he is Jordan Morgan (and not getting the call because, again, he is Jordan Morgan). He wasn’t needed on that night because his teammates buried the Illini early with an astonishing declaration of their undisputed arrival atop the Big Ten. And afterward, his teammates to a man insisted that the guy who scored four points in seven minutes hold the trophy and lead them in The Victors.
Morgan has never been 'the guy.' Darius Morris was the guy before Trey Burke was the guy before Nik Stauskas was the guy. But make no mistake: this is Jordan Morgan’s team. And his team has done something that no Michigan team for a generation has done. The 1989 NCAA Champions weren't Big Ten champions. The Fab Five never won a Big Ten Title. Rudy T never won a Big Ten Title. Neither did Robert Traylor or Louis Bullock or Manny Harris or Darius Morris. Jordan Morgan brought home two.
So now, on Saturday afternoon, Jordan Morgan will get what no Michigan senior in a long time has gotten: a victory lap. Others have walked to center court with better numbers, but no senior has done so with as complete a resume as Morgan in decades. So instead of simply applauding his heart and dedication and perseverance (a chorus that would be robust and well-deserved on its own), they can applaud his real, pen-on-paper accomplishments:
134 games played (likely to pass Stu Douglass for the most games ever played in a Michigan uniform)
112 games started
2768 minutes (nearly two full days) on the court
887 points on 62% shooting
A 98-39 record
Two Big Ten titles, including one outright title
Four consecutive NCAA appearances
One Final Four (thus far)
In a strange and somewhat incomprehensible twist on what seems like an old tradition, Michigan is once again playing a Senior Night that means almost nothing from a basketball standpoint. There is still a game to be played, of course, and of all people Jordan Morgan probably wants a win over Indiana as badly as anyone. But there is nothing to win tomorrow night, because Michigan has already claimed the high ground. Jordan Morgan gets a day to look around at the shiny new normal he helped to create, and to take his bow from atop the mountain.
"Remember when Mitch McGary went down and everyone panicked, but Michigan still won an outright Big Ten title?"
BASKETBALL. This is Henri The Otter Of Ennui's brother, Hank The Otter Of Swank. He's trying to eat a crocodile.
He has been watching Michigan basketball and is feeling rather metal. \m/
Don't drink? Grantland's Andrew Sharp profiles Nik Stauskas, and, uh…
Shooter. Shooter shooter shooter shooter shooter shooter. His ballhandling has made him a more complete scorer this year, but let’s not kid ourselves. That Wayne song was all about Stauskas.
This feels like meme backlash. Yes, Stauskas is nasty whenever provided an opportunity to launch, and sometimes even when not provided one.
But he has an almost 50/50 split between twos and threes and Michigan's highest FT rate by a wide margin. Shooter-shooter-shooter shooters have profiles more like Zak Irvin's 1:3 ratio of twos to threes and 21 FTAs on the season. Oh, and they're not top ten in the Big Ten in assists.
So… no, Andrew Sharp. No.
But kinda yeah. HAHAHAHA
The main problem with this chart is it doesn't seem to give full credit to the shot right before the half, which was launched from Botswana.
Down goes a guy considerably worse than Frazier! Nevermind that business about Michigan's relative immobility as a three. After Duke and Syracuse losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, respectively, the door is wide open for Michigan to move up to a 2. Also helping is Nebrasketball, which moved into the top 50 in RPI with a win over Indiana. That provides Michigan a couple extra wins in that overvalued category.
Michigan's still definitively behind three teams (Florida, Wichita, Arizona) but they've got a shot at everyone else. They are behind another five or six outfits and thus can't hit that 1 spot without a miracle, but two is at least a 50/50 proposition with Duke ceding advantage with a horrible loss.
In RPI terms the relative equality in record is because of an easier schedule. Duke is 4-4 against RPI top 50; Michigan is 8-5, 10-5 as long as Nebraska sticks. Duke also has one additional bad loss after tonight and zero road pedigree. Michigan is 7-2 on the road in the Big Ten. Beat an Indiana team that may be without Noah Vonleh and has definitely exited the bubble picture and I'm guessing a semifinal exit in the BTT will be good enough for a two.
Foot… ball? SB Nation takes an in-depth look at what Doug Nussmeier will do differently than Al Borges. This passage reinforces just how bonkers Michigan's approach was last year:
For example, the Michigan offense involved six primary run schemes: power, iso, draw, horn (a tackle lead play), inside zone, and outside zone. It's worth noting here, just for comparison, that NFL run-game guru Alex Gibbs believes that a ground attack should be built almost entirely on just inside and outside zone.
"Horn" was a little-used counter on which Michigan's tackles struggled to execute because of a lack of experience. The tackles struggled to execute. You know, the good, veteran dudes.
The run game will likely be built around inside zone and remain committed to the concept from week to week. Whereas Borges would build a million different constraints and play calls around multiple different run and pass schemes, Nussmeier will run inside zone in multiple ways, from multiple formations, and with different constraints built off of it to counter defensive responses. At Alabama, players would rep inside zone against every single defensive look that might come up, ensuring it could be called against any opponent.
Brutal. Tom Seeberg, father of Lizzie, speaks on his daughter's death. After issues here this is compelling:
"I think the context of revealing his name maybe adds to maybe why we certainly accused Notre Dame of conducting a superficial investigation," Seeberg said Tuesday on WGWG-FM 87.7. "But maybe it adds context to why they might conduct a superficial investigation. In a he-said-she-said matter, you can quickly gather forensic evidence to try to determine what happened there, or you can let it linger like they did. Let evidence spoil."
Please read the whole item; it's a fair piece for one that comes from father of deceased person who may or may not have been assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. It may have taken a while, but at least Michigan took what action was available to it—ex post facto or not—in its situation. Some of the things Seeberg's father states apparently sans emotion are crippling.
This is the point where it's really easy to fall into either THEY ARE TERRIBLE homerism or I AM OUTRAGED signaling; I'm not trying to do either and the Chicago Tribune does a terrific job of not doing so either while still allowing the to-date mysterious story from the Seebergs to come forth.
Walton profiled. Derrick Walton on The Journey, which remains a disappointingly but understandably whitewashed version of life in the Big Ten:
Damn if they don't get some remarkable video, though. That shot through Trey Burke to Beilein against Kansas… damn.
Well then, do something about it. Mark Cuban's NCAA rant has been disassembled various places, and deservedly. Cuban asserts that the one-and-done rule is somehow the NCAA's deal, and things go downhill from there. He also asserts that people would be better off if the D-League was a real alternative, which it won't ever be because the NBA would rather take the marketing bonanza that is the NCAA tournament and apply it instead of trying to make the Fort Wayne Mad Antz relevant nationally.
There is a solution here. It's easy, actually: the NBA moves to an NHL-style draft where any relevant player is automatically inserted at 18. This preserves their eligibility. The NBA then allows teams to sign draftees but forces them to guarantee contracts one year longer than their eligibility would last (IE, signing a guy out of HS: five year contract, freshman 4 years, etc) except in the case of graduating seniors, who are owed nothing.
If there's a five-round draft, say, that
- increases NCAA popularity as NBA fans check out their prospects,
- reduces bad NBA contracts for unready or plain overrated prospects,
- encourages the NBA to sign guys when they're ready and only then,
- allows LeBron-type prospects to immediately hit the NBA like they deserve to.
That is a vast improvement on the current system and 1000% more fun than anything Mark Cuban's come up with.
Here's an interesting metric. Bill Connelly has a novel stat: solo tackle rate for offenses. The teams at the top of this ranking correspond closely to spreads: Kansas State, Texas Tech, Arizona State, Baylor, Indiana. Michigan was middle of the pack; MSU and ND towards the bottom. Meaningful? No idea.
Etc.: Nebraska is one win over Wisconsin from punching their NCAA dance ticket. Viva Nebrasketball! Everything you need to know about that one incredible Iowa cheerleader. His name is Oz! Jim Delany is just the worst. Football is faster than ever now, for a given version of "now" that includes 1968.
Michigan is included as part of a scouting report series on "second-tier" contenders; nothing in it you don't already know except that Michigan apparently struggles against teams that push tempo. Um?
Because it's always the right idea to mess with a good thing, Michigan (among several other Adidas schools) unveiled special uniformz for the postseason. They're not terrible, though I'd prefer "MICHIGAN" across the chest; they're also completely unnecessary and way worse than, say, the throwbacks they wore against Penn State last year.
Jargon-laced press release ahoy. (Emphasis is mine, because holy jargon.)
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan men's basketball team and adidas unveiled today (Thursday, March 6) the Made in March Uniform System for the 2014 basketball postseason. The collection was created to provide the Wolverines with adidas' most advanced uniform system and basketball apparel technology so they can take on the challenges and intense play of March.
To evoke team unity and spirit, Made in March uniforms feature the Wolverines team name across the chest, while the school's "Go Blue" rally cry is printed on the inside collar of each jersey.
Made in March uniforms feature a functional perforated print pattern along the leg of the stretch woven short to enhance breathability and ventilation, keeping players cool as the clock winds down. Adidas' quick-drying jersey technology found in current NBA uniforms along with ClimaCool zones on the chest, back and side move heat and moisture away from the body to keep the jersey light and dry as players sweat.
The Made in March Uniform System debuts on-court beginning with conference tournament play.
You can purchase these if you'd like; since I don't want to encourage this behavior, you'll have to find the link elsewhere.
The good news: at least we're not Baylor.
Let's enumerate the wonderful things about this GIF:
- The Orange Crush is very bad at casting spells, judging by the two dudes right behind Nik Stauskas.
- Stauskas staring down 6'11" Nnanna Egwu for a couple seconds, going "yeah, I got this," and coldly hitting a three in his face.
- Derrick Walton meandering back on defense as soon as he sees Stauskas is going to shoot.
- Andrew Dakich beginning his roll the dice flourish while the ball is still mid-flight.
- Andrew Dakich, period.
- Exasperated Orange Crush girl throwing up her WTF hands at the very end.
- The Illini fans in the far corner whose will to move/exist has been completely destroyed.
This GIF, by my highly scientific ratings, comes in at #6 for the Illinois game. You're gonna want to hit the jump and watch the rest.
[JUMP and make Tracy Abrams bail the heck out]
RPI Effect Only Teams
If you care, Michigan played the following teams: UMass-Lowell (10-18), Houston Baptist (6-23), South Carolina State (9-19), Coppin State (10-19), Long Beach State (13-15), and Charlotte (15-13). But while I don’t want to say these games didn’t MATTER, they didn’t, you know, matter. Except the Charlotte game, because blerg. Michigan’s fate will be determines by larger narratives. Not many people are going to hammer too hard on RPI when you’re talking the difference between a 2 seed and a 3 seed. So, let us move along.
Big Sorts of Teams
Iowa State (22-7, 10-7 Big 12)
This week: Lost @ Kansas State (80-73); Lost @ Baylor (74-61)
Michigan probably moved ahead of Iowa State for good by virtue of Iowa State’s rough week. Bracketmatrix has them as the last 3 seed, it’s unlikely a home win over bubble team Oklahoma State (side note: how did THAT happen?) would get them past Michigan.
Florida State (18-11, 9-8 ACC)
This week: Beat Georgia Tech (81-71); Won @ Boston College (74-70)
Florida State met two necessary conditions for an NCAA bid this week. Losing to either of those teams would’ve probably been the end of things for the Seminoles. The good news is that Syracuse also seems very beatable, so it’s possible for Florida State to close strong. The problem is that now a win over Syracuse wouldn’t bring the cache it would have two or three weeks ago, so they might still need to do some work in the conference tourney.
From a Michigan standpoint, though, FSU doesn’t really matter all that much anymore. No one cares about your 6th best win, and pretty much Michigan's entire seeding case rests in its conference schedule. So if you’d really like to see some more #Nebrasketball, you might be hoping they drop their last couple of games to clear some room at the bubble.
#4 Dook (23-7, 12-5 ACC)
This week: Lost @ Wake Forest (YTWF) (82-72)
This was a gift on a number of fronts. Duke’s loss potentially leaves some wiggle room for Michigan to move up to a 2-seed. Also, Duke’s loss was a loss for Duke, which is a win for Not Duke. We are Not Duke. So, let’s compare the two teams right now:
|Record||KenPom||Losses (KP ranks)||Best wins (KP)||Is Duke?|
|MICHIGAN||22-7||10||1, 8, 11, 12, 28, 69, 182||11, 12, 13, 17, 17||No|
|DUKE||23-7||8||1, 6, 14, 23, 51, 92, 113||2, 10, 14, 15, 25||Yes|
I dunno, that’s close.
#3 Arizona (28-2, 15-2 PAC 12)
This week: Beat Stanford (79-66), Beat Arizona State (74-69)
It's hard to blame Arizona for a less-than-dominant performance against ASU. They'd clinched pretty much everything there was to clinch (PAC 12 title, #1 seed in the PAC 12 tourney, likely #1 seed, helped RichRod kill the 10 second rule), and sometimes it's hard to get up for games that don't much matter.
One potential cause for concern is depth. Arizona is really only rolling about 6 guys deep, which is working fine for them now, but if they run up against a team that draws a lot of fouls, it could be an issue. But no, Michigan isn't one of those teams.
Stanford (18-11, 9-8 PAC 12)
This week: Lost to Arizona (79-66); Lost to Colorado (59-56)
According to Bill Walton (who called the Stanford/Colorado game), Stanford's loss is a lot like the Punic War if it was fought by Muppets; you're not sure where they got the weapons, but you can't expect them to be back in time for lunch.
I'm not sure exactly what he meant by that, but Stanford's bid is in real trouble. Bracketmatrix had them as a 10-seed before the loss to the Buffs, so they still have some work to do. And not that it matters, but it would be nice for Michigan to have at least ONE win over a tournament team from its non-conference schedule.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Michigan, and all the teams that finished behind Michigan because Michigan finished ahead of everyone who isn't Michigan]
A couple GIFs to tide you over until tomorrow. First, a new entry in the Andrew Dakich Celebration Pantheon:
Also keep an eye on Stauskas, busy trolling the entire Illinois student section, and if you're of legal age you're allowed to look at the Orange Crush and their variety of inappropriate hand gestures.
The second GIF requires a jump, because it contains every Michigan three-point make from the game. Yes, all 16 of them.