WON THE CONFERENCE/INDIANA
Incorrect assertions that Michigan won the conference by two games since this was taped before the MSU and Wisconsin results were in. Increase marveling 50%. Standard charge bitchin' session. GRIII: on tear? Can we say that? Stauskas defeats point guard gambit. John Friggin' Beilein. Defense… uh. Could be problematic.
We are in favor of winning the tourney. Assertions about tiredness are just urban legend. Teams we'd like to see Michigan drawn against (Syracuse, VCU, Cincinnati) and teams we wouldn't (Kentucky, Duke, Arizona). Looking at the conference.
"Across 110th Street."
"Lake Michigan," Rogue Wave
"Adrenaline Nightshift," Japandroids
The usual links:
3/6/2014 – Michigan 84, Indiana 80 – 23-7, 15-3 Big Ten
Hello. I shoot 69%. They gave me a hat. [Fuller]
Arizona's lost, Virginia's lost, Wisconsin's lost, Duke's lost, Michigan State's lost, everyone's lost. They've all done so against teams ranging from mediocre to horrible. Losing is not hard; not losing is super hard. Michigan hasn't lost but three times in an 18 game Big Ten schedule and won the league by a staggering three-game margin. That's hard.
Michigan's done this despite being "soft" by any reasonable definition. Poke an opposing fan in a bad mood and they will hurl this charge. It's hard to dispute. Michigan's defense hovers around 100th in Kenpom. Their rebounding is middling at best. They do not steal the ball or block shots; they're dead last in the league at preventing two pointers from going in. Tom Izzo looks ready to die and is throwing most of his team under the bus for being softbatch, and his outfit is second in the league.
Meanwhile, here are the conference records of teams that finished last in two-point defense in the past ten years: 4-14, 4-14, 7-11, 4-14, 9-9, 1-17, 2-14, 6-10, 1-15, 3-13, 2-14.
This is a parade of Carmody-era Northwestern teams and anybody-era Penn State with the occasional outlier thrown in. You may be familiar with one of those outliers. That 9-9 record was John Beilein's first tourney team at Michigan, Stu and Zack and Manny and a Crisler eruption. Michigan broke through with a statistical indicator that usually means you're Penn State. A bad version of Penn State. Michigan got to the second round of the tourney.
This year's league-worst two point defense annihilated what's statistically the best conference in the country. Last year Michigan took a defense that entered the NCAA tourney in the 70s and charged into the national title game.
This is not a normal thing. Every year, people pull profiles of past NCAA champions out and dismiss Michigan because they don't have enough defense. Michigan does not seem to notice. They are too busy playing NBA Jam.
Michigan must be approaching the practical limit of offensive efficiency. Sometimes, like first halves against Nebraska and Illinois, they approach the theoretical limit.
Over the past decade only a half-dozen teams exceeded Michigan's current output, and they are generally 30 win teams: Chris Paul at Wake Forest, the uber-loaded 2009 Carolina squad that dismantled MSU in the title game, that one year Jon Diebler hit 50% from three off of Jared Sullinger kickouts. These teams are juggernauts, charging through major-conference regular seasons with two or three losses.
This year, the teams scraping the ceiling are not juggernauts. Creighton, Duke, and Michigan are probing these heights with the aid of the sometimes-goofy new rules, but they've all lost at least six games already. None will be top seeds. All have defenses ranging from 80th to 100th on Kenpom. All have offenses that are otherworldly.
Together they comprise a new version of contender, a major-conference version of three-point sniping underdogs. Each takes 40% of their shots from behind the line and connects on 40% of their attempts. The other teams at the top of the the three-point-make charts are more often Utah State and Drake than they are major conference teams.
This year, the feisty 12 shooting down a five-seed has migrated into the protected seeds, with all the rights and privileges therein. Chaos beckons. I've got no idea what's going to happen, but I know that it is going to be crazy. Stock up on subs.
Hall of fame. If you get three encomiums in one career you're a MGoHall of Fame lock. Jordan Morgan has cleared the bar. He has been here for the entire building process and now stands at the top of the Big Ten, net in teeth. Those who stay will be champions. (And most of those who don't.) Hiring John Beilein was a good idea.
Anyway: Indiana came out with a gameplan that was essentially a Jordan Morgan diss track, starting 6'7" freshman Devin Davis and switching every screen. Morgan was not about to take that slap in the face on senior day. He posted, he rebounded, he kept Michigan in the game during the period where Indiana literally could not miss. He ended 7/8 from the floor with five offensive rebounds and a couple steals.
His makes showed an advanced knowledge of how to finish without the ability to play above the rim, especially the bucket on which one dribble led to a tight-angle layup around Vonleh. He just finished a season shooting 69% as a 6'8" non-leaper. Sure sure sure a lot of those were put on a platter for him, but there are a lot of guys who get things put on a platter for them who don't shoot anywhere near 69%. I mean, his ORtg is higher than anyone on the team other than Albrecht.
BONKERS. Speaking of ORTG, the worst on the team still belongs to Derrick Walton, and his number is 110, up 11 points from midseason. Indiana has one guy above that—Ferrell, obvs. Vonleh is just about tied with Walton.
Michigan's offense is just bonkers this year.
Obligatory photo of everyone else smiling because they did something spectacular and difficult as Jon Horford mediates or something. We would not let you down in a matter this important.
you may be on the court at Crisler after winning the Big Ten by three games
I am on the court as well
but I am also under the Banyan tree
inventing the world anew every moment [Fuller]
Will Sheehey can't check this no mo [Fuller]
Point guard on Stauskas: dead. Hail the Beilein adjustment matrix. Michigan started out against Michigan State by obliterating MSU's previous defensive strategy. A collection of back cuts and down screens got Michigan a bunch of looks at the basket and forced MSU to stop denying the perimeter. At that point Michigan could just run their offense, which was their offense and therefore ridiculous.
Michigan's Borg-like ability to adapt to phaser frequencies was also on display in this one. We spent the better part of a month fretting about opponents shutting down Nik Stauskas by sticking their point guards on him. This strategy was initiated in Michigan's loss at Assembly Hall (Yes That Assembly Hall). Stauskas again drew Ferrell. Results: 21 points on 17 shot equivalents, two assists, one turnover. Stauskas got quick post ups for buckets, drove past Ferrell, shot over Ferrell. Etc.
Stauskas has put up 25, 15, 21, 24, and 21 in his last five games. He's adapted to little guys in his grill, mostly by raining it in from three, but here the drives were also effective.
Zone. The 1-3-1 was the difference in the game. It shot Indiana's uncharacteristically low turnover rate into the stratosphere and didn't give up any worse shots than the man to man was. The 1-3-1 is inherently a high risk, high reward defense that does give up a lot of GRAHHHHH dunks, offensive rebounds, and open threes. It compensates by turning the opponent over. So when you're giving up a lot of GRAHHHHH dunks and open threes anyway, you might as well get some turnovers.
It is frustrating that Michigan did not try out a packed-in 2-3 and dare anyone not named Ferrell to raise up over it. They only have so much time to work on things, I guess, but given Indiana's struggles against a 2-3 it seems like it would have been something to try once it became apparent that dribble penetration was there for anyone who wanted it.
Instead, the 1-3-1 worked just fine. Indiana had 12 second half turnovers, many of them forced by the zone and specifically Caris LeVert's ever-extending hands. He's only credited with two steals in the box score but his impact was much larger than that as the flypaper dude at the top.
Entering the tourney, having the 1-3-1 in Michigan's back pocket is a major asset, especially given that they're down to 93rd in defense on Kenpom. They may have to change what they're doing at some point when the man to man just isn't working.
coachin' in a van down by the river [Bryan Fuller]
Clap on, Clappy. Michigan got the ball back up three with 39 seconds left. Indiana did not trap or press; they eventually fouled Spike Albrecht with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Crean was apparently screaming at his team to foul for a good 10 seconds of that delay, even so that's just… wow. Let's just say I can't see a Beilein team not knowing that you should try to steal the ball and foul quickly in that situation.
GET OFF THE COURT, SCHRUTE. Crean actually shoved one of his players then forced the referee to box him out on one Indiana possession. Beilein had already been hit with a technical for saying something along the lines of "dagnabit," and Crean's on the court affecting the play. Nothing.
They've got to do something about this in the offseason. Dump your horrible charge changes* and actually enforce technicals against coaches who show up on the court. For the love of pants.
*[Semi-weekly charge bitching goes here. Adriean Payne had been set for a good two seconds on this "block":
Worst block/charge call of the year? pic.twitter.com/6OMl5bILXY
— World of Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 9, 2014
Meanwhile, Spike Albrecht can't get a call because he's tiny and flies halfway across the arena when a 6'8" guy puts his shoulder into him. It looks like a flop because Spike Albrecht is tiny. And then Morgan gets a call on the 1-3-1 as he slides under Troy Williams after Williams is already in the air. They need to simplify the call, because the refs simply cannot make it.]
"DAGNABIT" works. Indiana got called for a bunch of travels in the second half after Beilein's tech. I hate coach ref histrionics, but they apparently work.
Brackets. Palm hasn't budged on Michigan as the #2 in the West with Arizona despite the carnage around them. Brad Evans of Yahoo has Michigan fifth overall, presumably matched with Villanova in the East. Lunardi has Michigan the #2 in the South opposite Florida. Crashing the Dance's algorithm has Michigan, Kansas, Syracuse, and Wichita State in a veritable dead heat for spots 4-7.
While it's unlikely Wichita is in any danger of dropping off the one line—algorithms are having slight issues with a 33-0 MVC team—it's anyone's guess how the twos get ordered. At this point it looks like Michigan is a lock to get one; hopefully they can play themselves out of the West. Indianapolis is obviously ideal for the regionals, and it does seem like Michigan can play themselves there by winning the BTT. Kansas and Virginia losses in their tournaments would help.
One thing that seems assured: Michigan will be in Milwaukee for the first weekend. Save Wisconsin, their competitors for that spot (Creighton, Iowa State, Cincinnati, MSU) are probably incapable of passing M on the S-curve.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten tournament sets up nicely for Michigan with Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin on the other side of the bracket:
Indiana is clearly a bad matchup for M; everyone else they could meet before the final is manageable.
The most interesting bracketology debate, by the way, is Duke. Palm had them a 5 seed before their win over UNC, citing a near-total lack of accomplishments on the road. They're now a weak 4 on his bracket. Lunardi still has them a 2. Lunardi's got a rep for not being particularly good until late, when he talks to people close to the committee. If Duke does end up a fringe Sweet 16 seed, that is point Palm.
Congratsketball. Well done, Nebrasketball. By beating Wisconsin you've moved yourselves definitively off the bubble and finished a near-undefeated home season. And the only thing you lose this offseason is Ray Gallegos.
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"It was fun to start the game off like that," Jordan Morgan said, eyes still welled from an emotional night. "I'd done enough reminiscing and getting all soft."
Morgan had tears in his eyes when he held his jersey aloft in the pregame Senior Day ceremony. The "soft" stuff then took a hiatus until postgame. Michigan's lone senior scored the team's first three baskets en route to his fifth career double-double and first of the season.
Morgan's hard work kept the Wolverines in the game while their man-to-man defense faltered, allowing Indiana to hit their first nine shots from the field. He took advantage of Indiana switching picks early, attacking guards on the block and keeping possessions alive with his rebounding. He set the tone for the team's eventual comeback.
"Nobody puts in more time in the gym than Jordan Morgan," John Beilein said during the postgame ceremony, with confetti streaming down on his head and two-thirds of a Crisler net in his hand. "He deserved everything he got tonight."
The elephant in the room, however, is that two of Michigan's other stars may have also just played their last game in the Crisler Center. Nik Stauskas scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half, getting to the rim at will against Yogi Ferrell and his Hoosier cohorts. When he cut down his piece of the net, Stauskas paused for a moment, then saluted the crowd; if it wasn't a goodbye, it sure felt like one.
Glenn Robinson III may also make the leap to the NBA next season. If so, he went out in style, capping off a 20-point night with a corner three—off a drive-and-dish from Stauskas—that gave Michigan a three-point lead with 1:08 remaining. He'd missed 15 of his previous 17 three-point attempts; when it came down to crunch time, however, he didn't hesitate to rise and fire.
While Michigan couldn't prevent Indiana from getting quality looks, a switch to the 1-3-1 in the second half provided them just enough defense to come away with the win. The turnover-prone Hoosiers coughed up the rock just three times in the first half. After Beilein's adjustment, they committed 12 turnovers in the second half alone. That proved critical in conjunction with Michigan's six total turnovers and 11-6 edge in offensive rebounds; they needed every last extra possession to squeeze out this victory.
Caris LeVert played a huge role in that as the disruptive force at the top of the zone, coming away with two steals in addition to his 13 points and four rebounds. The rest of the team had a relatively quiet night—Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht combined for 15 points, with none scoring more than four apiece.
In the end, it was just enough for Michigan to secure a 15-3 Big Ten record, as well as defeating every Big Ten squad for the first time since 1992. After the game, Morgan's emotions were apparent as he discussed what tonight meant to him.
"You talk about five years worth of emotions wrapped up into one day. So much work, sweat, and adversity that went into putting this program where it is, just years and years of battling, just a constant battle for five years—no matter what it is, whether it's on the court or off the court. It's the culmination of all that."
"I love playing with these guys, they're some of the best teammates..."
Morgan trailed off.
"It's been an amazing year."
He caught himself.
|WHAT||Michigan (22-7, 14-3 B1G) vs Indiana (17-13, 7-10)|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||6 pm Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||Michigan -12 (KenPom)|
PBP: Bob Wischusen
Analyst: Dan Dakich
Right: Soak it all in, J-Mo. [Fuller]
In case you've been in a cave all week, Michigan locked up the outright Big Ten title on Tuesday. That doesn't mean this game in meaningless. It's Jordan Morgan's final home game, and if anybody deserves a triumphant sendoff, it's him. Also, the Wolverines have moved up to the final two-seed spot on the Bracket Matrix. A win and an adequate performance in the Big Ten Tournament should keep U-M as a two-seed. A loss means they'd have to make a deep BTT run and/or get some help to not fall to a three-seed.
THE PREVIOUS MATCHUP
I have no idea what you're talking about.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold:
|G||11||Yogi Ferrell||So.||6'0, 178||83.6||25.1||115.1|
|Do-everything point shooting 40% from three on 203 attempts, also solid defender|
|F||0||Will Sheehey||Sr.||6'7, 200||72.1||19.7||105.7|
|Solid slasher, inconsistent jumper, TO-prone, efficiency down as starter|
|F||13||Austin Etherington||So.||6'6, 213||25.4||12.6||94.8|
|Minuscule usage, gets to FT line well, having awful shooting season, TO-prone|
|F||5||Troy Williams||Fr.||6'7, 206||52.4||19.4||97.3|
|Great athlete, at best near rim, decent rebounder, not a shooter, TO-prone|
|F||1||Noah Vonleh||Fr.||6'10, 240||61.5||21.8||110.5|
|Great rebounder, good shot-blocker, mostly works at rim but range extends to 3-pt|
|G||10||Evan Gordon||Sr.||6'0, 192||52.5||15.2||107.6|
|Low-usage, okay shooter who gets to FT line often, ceding minutes lately to...|
|F||33||Jeremy Hollowell||So.||6'8, 219||41.8||21.5||92.5|
|Active off. rebounder, shoots <40% from field, high FT rate, decent shot-blocker|
|G||22||Stanford Robinson||Fr.||6'4, 193||40.7||22.7||92.4|
|Slasher without much of a jumper, good FT rate but hitting just 55% of FTs|
|F||12||Hanner Mosquera-Perea||So.||6'9, 225||18.4||19.3||108.2|
|Excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, foul-prone, takes more FTs than FGs|This is going on the assumption that freshman sensation Noah Vonleh, who's missed the last two games with a foot injury, isn't going to play in a game that has little meaning for Indiana—they're well off the NCAA bubble and Vonleh has a lottery-pick future to protect.
UPDATE: Not a safe assumption, apparently:
Indiana's Noah Vonleh expected to play tonight against Michigan, sources told ESPN.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 8, 2014
Vonleh is one of the best rebounders in the country, a very good shot-blocker, and a good finisher with range extending beyond the three-point line.
With Noah Vonleh
probably not sidelined, Indiana won't have to rotate through a large group of not-as-effective big men. Jeremy Hollowell does solid work on the offensive glass, but his defensive rebound rate is a paltry 12.3% and he's shooting 40% on twos and 21% on threes this season. Hanner Mosquera-Perea possesses great athleticism and comes close to replacing Vonleh's rebounding, but he's very inconsistent and often finds himself in foul trouble. 6'7" freshman Devin Davis and 6'8" senior Jeff Howard are undersized options thrust into bigger roles; of the two, Davis is the superior option.
With Vonleh playing, Indiana gets back one of the top rebounders in college basketball (160th in OR%, 12th in DR% nationally), a decent shot-blocker, and their most efficient scorer. Vonleh does most of his offensive damage at the rim, though he can also step out and knock down the three—he's 15/27 from beyond the arc this season.
The nominal power forward is freshman Troy Williams, a superlative athlete lacking much in the way of a jump shot. He's been joined in the starting lineup in the last two games (with Vonleh out) by Austin Etherington, who's shooting 9/24 from two and 5/20 from three this season; he's salvaged a not-terrible offensive rating by getting to the line at a high rate and hitting 78% of his freebies. Both players are turnover prone, as is the case with much of this team.
Senior Will Sheehey's had an up-and-down season after transitioning from dangerous sixth man to being the team's #2 offensive option. He's a solid athlete who can get to the rim and finish; however, his jumper has been iffy (31% 3-pt) and his formerly low turnover rate has taken a turn for the worse. Backup guards Evan Gordon and Stanford Robinson take most of Etherington's minutes; Gordon's a decent outside shooter who otherwise doesn't add much, while Robinson is (stop me if you've heard this before) a solid slasher lacking a jump shot.
The focal point of the team is, of course, Yogi Ferrell, who shot 6/8 from three in a game against some team at some point this season that somehow is slipping my mind. He's shooting 40% from downtown on more attempts than Nik Stauskas. He's been inconsistent inside the arc, however; as this chart from Inside The Hall shows, as that part of his game goes, so goes Indiana:
As you can see, the only significant difference between those two columns is Ferrell's two-point percentage.
Indiana's tourney hopes got a brief boost last week after back-to-back home wins over Iowa and Ohio State, then crash-landed after Wednesday's home loss to Nebraska, only the third Husker road win of the season. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have just three wins away from Assembly Hall this season: a neutral site triumph over #93 Washington and road victories against #73 Penn State and #156 Northwestern.
You probably gathered this from the individual player stats: Indiana isn't a very good shooting team—seventh in the conference in eFG% due almost entirely to Ferrell keeping their three-point shooting respectable—and they commit by far the most turnovers in the Big Ten. Offensive rebounding is a strength, though much of that is thanks to Vonleh, who'll either be in sweats or playing in a limited capacity. Crunch the numbers and they end up with the 9th-best offense in the Big Ten.
The defense is in the middle of the pack, and like the offense helped significantly by their rebounding. The Hoosiers appear to be the beneficiaries of some three-point luck; despite allowing three-point attempts at a higher rate than the NCAA average, opponents are making just 31.3% of them in Big Ten play. Meanwhile, the interior defense is a mess, with Indiana allowing opponents to shoot 50.1% inside the arc (11th in B1G).
Stop Ferrell's penetration. Yes, I'm aware Ferrell did most of his damage from beyond the arc the last time out, but the chart from ITH really speaks volumes. If Ferrell can't get good looks at the rim—which also opens up drive-and-dish opportunities for the rest of the team—then the Hoosiers have a tough time consistently generating offense. This falls on Derrick Walton, and to a lesser extent Spike Albrecht, as Indiana's length should prevent Michigan from trying to defend Ferrell with Caris LeVert—though that's something we could see when Ferrell and Gordon are on the court at the same time.
Box out. Even without Vonleh, the Hoosiers boast plenty of solid offensive rebounders and an athletic squad across the board. Unless Ferrell reprises his role as Three-Point Death Bot, Indiana is going to need second-chance opportunities to keep up with Michigan's offense. Keeping the rebounding battle relatively even would be a win for the Wolverines.
Keep Stauskas free. The other thing Ferrell did really well in the first matchup was deny Nik Stauskas the ball; that game came during the stretch when opponents did an infuriatingly good job of doing this. Michigan's since adjusted by switching up their off-ball movement, including adding more backcuts for Stauskas; expect more of the same if Indiana tries the same defensive strategy.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 12
KenPom gives Michigan an 88% chance of winning, which... wow.
Long live long twos, I guess.
Tremendous GRIII Instagram becomes tremendous MGoGIF:
That's LeVert, Irvin, and Walton (with cameraman GRIII) after a visit to Mott. It is impossible for rational human beings to dislike this team.
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?"