is there such a thing as an etsy genuis? if so, this is it.
mitch mcgary in a tiny parade
It's been just over a month since Mitch McGary announced his "decision" to go pro. The scare quotes are present because there was no decision to make if McGary were to act at all in his own self-interest.
This sucked. This sucked because Mitch McGary is a joy to watch on the basketball court, a 6'10" mace attached to a giant pendulum, swinging violently back and forth while pausing only to wreck shit. This sucked because he's equally fun off the court, with his unicycle and Bieber-crooning and invaluable coaching advice and generally making Michigan's bench seem like the best party on campus, even if McGary was the only one partying:
What sucked most of all, though, was the feeling that McGary had only scratched the surface of his potential, and factors almost entirely out of his control* limited our exposure to just 12 career starts. Mitch McGary's Michigan career lasted all of 966 minutes played. That's just over 16 hours. That's not nearly enough.
So while I had no trouble writing effusively about Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III after their departures, I've spent the last month struggling to put McGary's career into words. I try to analyze and am left instead with a whole lot of feelings. How does one discuss an athlete hyped to Webberian proportions before he ever enrolled who, apart from one brilliant six-game stretch, never produced as expected yet was beloved all the same?
Probably by ignoring all of that, sitting back, and watching him work, because again: when Mitch McGary was on the court, the only proper response was to drop everything and watch Mitch McGary. He didn't give you a choice in the matter. He grabbed your attention like so many entry passes:
McGary was a defensive force with impeccable timing. His steal rate as a freshman easily surpassed that of Trey Burke, Master of the Halfcourt Pickpocket. He protected the rim. He seemingly rebounded everything. Michigan's defense suffered mightily last season without McGary's interior presence and game-changing ability to erase opponent possessions.
He also boasted remarkable skill for a big man. Defensive boards turned into fast breaks in the time you could say "Unseld." Sometimes he'd eschew that route and just do everything himself. Occasionally he'd finish his coast-to-coast forays with a Rondo-esque fake behind-the-back pass. Speaking of point guard skills, he could thread multiple defenders without looking. Perhaps my favorite McGary play came in the Kansas game, when he hit a baseline turnaround right in Jeff Withey's face like it was routine, not a work-in-progress shot he'd rarely—if ever—utilized to that point.
He did these things while accepting a backup role until it was time to unleash him for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, playing in an offense that relied on him more as a garbageman than a creator, and being the team's #1 scholarship cheerleader and hype man.
Look at the GIF at the top of the post, one more time. It's a 25-point blowout of Northwestern, and there's McGary, showing more effort in one play than some guys do in four years. Sure, he lost the ball out of bounds, but it's not like you can be mad about it; even if it didn't end well, that play brought life to a dull affair, and we were all better for having seen it.
That's how I'll choose to remember Mitch McGary. The flashes of brilliance. The occasional mistakes born from genuine enthusiasm that bordered on excessive. Most of all, the feeling, after everything, that I enjoyed my life just that much more thanks to a big kid from Indiana who seemed to enjoy everything.
*Yes, there's the weed thing. Read that David Roth piece, then think about the punishment for McGary's transgression versus one of another Michigan center—the football one, Graham Glasgow, suspended for part of spring practice and one should-be-a-cupcake non-conference game for drunk driving. I find one of these things far worse than the other, and it's the one that puts other people's lives in actual danger.
CHRISTMAS NOTE: Everyone is off until Friday, except possibly Seth, a general in the War On Christmas. Enjoy the time spent with your family and do everything you can to speed up 2013's untimely demise.
12/21/2013 – Michigan 68 – Stanford 65 – 7-4
No column, just bullets:
I'll take it. With Mitch McGary out and Horford fouling out in six minutes, Michigan was down to Jordan Morgan and Max Bielfeldt for big swathes of this game. Meanwhile, LeVert scores one point on seven shots. I will take a neutral court-ish win over a team that just beat UConn in that situation, even if it's by three points.
We Wisconsin'd 'em. Beilien did the thing again where you get to see him be first season Walter White in the locker room, and the brief snippet they played featured Beilein saying the word "solid" three times in one sentence in re: Michigan's defense. He got that.
He mentioned chests prominently. Michigan used them to annoy a huge Stanford team on a variety of post-up shots that ended up being bad looks because Michigan was committing that foul where you shuffle out, bumping your chest into the shooter as he goes up. Unlike everything Horford did, that never gets called and was not called. Stauskas in particular had a couple of "did I just see that" possessions where a dude got the ball on the low block against him and ended up with a heavily contested fallaway. IIRC he was on a 6'10" guy on those shots.
Stanford ended up shooting pretty well from inside the arc (47%), with their center Nastic going 5 of 6, but again a total of six minutes from Horford and no McGary. Given the circumstances, it was a good effort.
Hey, now I remember why I liked you. Been a huge struggle for Morgan for about half a season now but he really pulled Michigan's ass out of the fire, fronting posts for turnovers, boxing out (though he only had five rebounds himself that very large Stanford team was limited to 18% OREB), and following up his obligatory ARRRGH Y U NO FINISH moment by rebounding his missed bunny and putting it back in. He also put on his Mitch McGary hat on a couple of outlet passes that led to hockey assists. Without Morgan making a consistently positive impact, this is another loss and man things look grim.
Other sectors not often heard from. Michigan was miserable from outside the arc with the exception of Zak Irvin, who went 4 of 8 to prevent the rest of the team's 4 of 23 mark from tanking the season. This pops his season average up to 41%, which will shock you if you missed the Coppin State and Houston Baptist games.
Irvin is Just A Shooter. He's got a miniscule TO rate of 8, an even more miniscule FT rate of 7, and has taken about 70% of his shots from behind the line. But when he starts doing more things than shooting threes, people will not say he's Not Just A Shooter, because he's a black guy.
JUST SAY IT. Raftery teased all game and finally got out a "not just a shooter" near the end of the first half; announcers seem to have glommed onto the fact that the internet gently mocks them for saying Nik Stauskas is not just a shooter every time he adds to his enormous pile of free throws. They are trying not to say it.
Just say it, man. We like it when you say it, because it signifies Stauskas has just thrown down a dunk or somesuch other thing.
Speaking of Stauskas's growing pile of free throws. He had 87 all last year. He's going to blow through that in a couple games now as he's already got 71. The leap in his game is reflected in the statistics, in which he's made a Burke-like freshman to sophomore transition. His usage is up from 16 to 23; his assists have more than doubled while his TO rate slips, he's drawing almost six fouls a game, his FT rate has doubled, and his shooting is right on par with last season save a dip in FT% despite the increased usage.
Things will cool off as Michigan exits the bit of their season where Houston Baptist lets you sit in the corner by yourself and repeat your YouTube videos for a live studio audience, sure. Stauskas's emergence into the guy is undeniable. It was a palpable relief that Stanford wasn't going nuts overplaying him on the perimeter a la Duke.
Unfair expectations theater. Every missed Stauskas free throw engenders a tiny conniption fit from me, because I expect him to be Chauncey Billups at the line and he is not. Meanwhile if Mitch McGary hits a free throw I throw a tiny parade for him. (Tiny Mitch McGary parade: buy it for your small child today.) Good news: I have not had a tiny conniption fit for three games, in which Stauskas is 19/19 at the line, including the clutch pair at the end of this game to make the last-ditch Stanford three merely an alarming thing instead of an OH NO BACKBOARDS situation.
Neutral court-ish. Virtual home court again for Michigan. I mind these neutral court things less in basketball where you have a lot more games to play with and a lot fewer people you're trying to pack in. Also, there are a lot of Michigan fans in New York. This makes it unlike, oh, say, Dallas. It does suck that the nonconference home schedule was Arizona and hot garbage but Michigan probably thought they were getting a home game in the B10/ACC challenge and then got screwed.
I'm still boggled at the economics of playing a tournament like the Puerto Rico one, though, where you're playing all your games in a virtually empty arena. I guess Puerto Rico really wants to convince you that they have a gym in which the floor is always wet no matter what you do. Mission accomplished, land of enchantment.
Glenn. Hello. Second straight game in which Robinson has been very efficient, not only at throwing down monster alley-oops but at creating his own shot. Robinson had 17 and probably should have had a couple more as he went 4/8 from the line. If maintained this development bodes well, as it takes pressure off of the point guards even further.
Go team. (Other team.) FSU just picked up a good win against previously undefeated UMass. Their losses are in OT to Michigan, by one point to Florida, and by ten to Minnesota; Kenpom has them going 20-10 and 11-7 in the ACC, which would make them a win you'd see noted as a nice one when it comes time to parse resumes. Stanford has the look of a bubble team, but hopefully they get some thing straightened out and outperform expectations. There is almost no chance of that since Stanford is comparatively ancient as a team.