U-M can get by with three options at center (all photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
As we welcome in the new year, we've moved on from fretting about the 2013 football team to ... fretting about the 2013-14 basketball team. There's good reason for this, of course, with Mitch McGary's season almost certainly over due to his upcoming back surgery. Your hoops mailbag questions reflect this, as all but one are related to the impact of McGary's absence in one way or another. Without further ado, here's a very McGary-centric mailbag.
@AceAnbender Where to Mitch's minutes go percentage-wise between Irvin, Morgan, and Horford?
— Bry Mac (@Bry_Mac) December 31, 2013
John Beilein announced this week that—at least for now—he's sticking with Jordan Morgan as the starting center and Jon Horford coming off the bench. I don't think McGary's absence will affect the minutes of Zak Irvin very much, if at all; he might see an increase in minutes, but that will be due to his in-season progression as opposed to any need for him to play the four, as Max Bielfeldt and Glenn Robinson III can pick up much of the slack there.
As for how the minutes will be distributed, we already have an idea thanks to the four games McGary has missed so far this season. In the first two games of the year, Horford started and played 22-24 minutes while Morgan added 12-15, with Bielfeldt getting 4-6 minutes of mostly garbage time. The split between Horford and Morgan has reversed in the last two games; Morgan played 22 and 24 minutes against Stanford and Holy Cross, respectively. While Horford only played six minutes against the Cardinal, that's because he picked up five fouls in that span, opening up a few more minutes for Bielfeldt to see the floor.
For the time being, I expect Beilein to go with a 25/15 split between Morgan and Horford, with Bielfeldt picking up a few minutes here and there at both the four and the five. The wild card here is foul trouble: Horford currently averages 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes, while Morgan is at a whopping 6.6 (the change in charge calls has really hurt him defensively). Bielfeldt got 12 minutes against Stanford. Notably, freshman big Mark Donnal didn't see any time despite all three bigs being in foul trouble in that game, which brings me to the next question...
@AceAnbender also, any chance of burning Donnal's redshirt due to need for bigs?
— Morris Fabbri (@MoMoneyMoFabbri) December 31, 2013
I don't think this is going to happen unless another big man misses extended time. Donnal is a lean stretch four at 6'9", 230 pounds, and unlike Caris LeVert last year there isn't a mountain of practice hype to suggest he'll force his way onto the court despite the need to add bulk. Between Morgan, Horford, Bielfeldt, GRIII, and Irvin, the Wolverines have plenty of options when it comes to filling minutes at the four and the five; I don't see the benefit of burning Donnal's redshirt just so he can fill in for a few minutes from time to time.
— Kyle Rosenbaum (@Gkm13) December 31, 2013
This entirely ignores the best aspect of McGary's game: his ability to induce chaos. Despite playing through injury this year, he's currently ranked 29th nationally in steal rate, which not only foils opponent possessions but usually gets Michigan into the fast break, where they're much more effective than in their halfcourt offense. Neither Horford nor Morgan provides that threat, and while Horford has proven to be as good—if not better—at blocking shots than McGary, Morgan is a relative non-factor in that regard.
He's also a superlative offensive rebounder, ranking 83rd in that regard, though Horford and Morgan actually have slightly higher rebound rates on that end—we'll see if that holds with increased minutes. On the other end, while Horford is just about equal with McGary when it comes to defensive rebounding, there's a big dropoff to Morgan, who's posted just a 15.9 DReb% in comparison to 25.4% for McGary and 24.6% for Horford.
Also, McGary has easily the best chemistry with Michigan's perimeter players on the pick and roll, especially Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht. Horford is inconsistent when it comes to setting a good screen, while Morgan—as we've seen for four years—has trouble catching entry passes cleanly and finishing strong at the rim. McGary's passing acumen—especially when Michigan faces zone defenses—will also be missed; his assist rate is around double those of the other two bigs. Beilein's offense may not run through the post; that doesn't mean it won't suffer without McGary.
@AceAnbender odds Mitch comes back next year? Doing so could boost his draft stock, but he might feel urgency to get paid.
— Dan Roehrig (@DanRareEgg) December 31, 2013
This is going to be a very tough call for McGary; he turns 22 in June, old for a rising junior, and if he was guaranteed a first-round spot I don't think there's any question he'd turn pro. That's in seroius doubt at this point, however. Even before the injury, ESPN's Chad Ford had dropped McGary down to the #24 spot on his big board ($). In the immediate aftermath of the injury, ESPN's Jeff Goodman got this quote from an NBA general manager:
"He should have left," one NBA general manager told ESPN.com. "Now he's a borderline first-rounder. He would have been a lock last season."
The latest NBADraftNet mock has McGary going as the seventh pick of the second round. Barring a pretty miraculous recovery, McGary isn't going to have a chance to raise his stock before it's time to declare for the draft, and I believe he'll come back if he's projected as a second-round pick—unlike first-rounders, those players don't get guaranteed contracts, and a strong junior season from McGary could easily vault him back into the first round.
Alright, let's do one non-McGary question since this is getting rather depressing.
— Gustavo Adventure (@colintj) December 31, 2013
It's certainly a viable lineup, especially on the defensive end, as LeVert is currently the best player on the team at defending opposing point guards, in my opinion (with a freshman and a 5'10" guy as his competition, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here). Beilein has talked about going to this lineup more often as a situational defensive lineup at the end of games and I'm in full support of this.
15 minutes a game of this, however, might be a bit much. While LeVert is great at taking care of the ball, his assist rate (14.8%) is well below Derrick Walton's (19.5%), way below Spike Albrecht's (27.7%), and even trailing Nik Stauskas (18.0%). When LeVert is running the offense, it often devolves into him dribbling the air out of the ball in isolation situations; while he's getting pretty good at getting buckets out of those plays, that's not a very sustainable way to run an offense.
That said, Beilein's offense doesn't really require a traditional point guard, and between Stauskas and LeVert there are two solid creators off the dribble when Michigan goes big. If they can get the offense to run more smoothly when LeVert initiates the play, this lineup could very well turn into Michigan's best—that's a big if, though, and deemphasizing the point guards could hamper Walton's development.
2013 may have ended on a sour note (or several), but that doesn't mean it's not worth looking back at some of the highlights of the calendar year—especially, say, a few choice moments from March and April. While I've almost certainly omitted several worthy candidates, here are my picks for the 20 best (unedited) MGoGIFs of 2013.
If you'd like to peruse all of this year's GIFs, here are links to my Flickr sets for the 2012-13 basketball season, 2013 football season, and 2013-14 basketball season. Since Flickr is pretty cumbersome, you must click on each still frame, then right-click on the still frame and hit "view original" to see the actual animation. Alternatively, you can journey through the "one frame at a time" tag on this here blog.
Since it was difficult enough just to narrow this down to a list of 20, these GIFs are presented in chronological order, and you can vote for your favorite at the end of the post.
DANCIN' DENNIS NORFLEET (January 1st)
Because no MGoAnything is complete without some Norfleet.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the GIFs]
Get used to this, unfortunately. (Photo: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH (via U-M Media Relations, emphasis mine):
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beilein announced today (Friday, Dec. 27), that sophomore forward Mitch McGary (Chesterton, Ind./Brewster Academy [N.H.]) will be out indefinitely after electing to have a surgery performed on his lower back. There is no timetable for McGary’s return; however, the medical staff expects him to make a full recovery.
"My back problems have been a daily challenge ever since late August," said McGary. "We have worked hard rehabbing the injury and I thought that everything was proceeding in the right direction until the last two weeks. I have consulted with my family, my coaches and our doctors and decided the best option now is to have surgery. This was a difficult decision to make because I want to be out there with my teammates. At the same time, I need to be healthy to give everything I can on the court and help my team."
"We want Mitch to be 100 percent healthy again," said Beilein. "He has worked very hard over the last few months and during his earlier rehab. He was making progress in practice and games; however, lately he began to experience the same pain he had when we held him out of preseason practice this fall. Our first priority is Mitch's overall health even though I am certain he would rather be back on the court right now."
The timing couldn't be much worse with Big Ten season just around the corner. I'm no doctor (paging Heiko...) but I'm guessing Michigan will be lucky if McGary is back at anything close to full strength by postseason play.
UPDATE: More details, more despair:
John Beilein says Mitch McGary's indefinite absence could last entire season. McGary has not undergone surgery. Potentially coming next week
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) December 27, 2013
And the potential silver lining:
Just talked to a couple NBA guys -- both echoed same sentiment with McGary. With back issues and way be plays, could fall out of 1st round.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) December 27, 2013
It appears the best thing that could come out of this is McGary coming back for his junior year; that's not much consolation if this is a lost season for him, as is appears it will be.
"The devil's in the details," said John Beilein after the game, describing the difficulty of winning against good teams.
For 38 minutes, Michigan did enough of the little things to hold a lead against top-ranked Arizona. They shot the ball well, played tough defense on the interior, and didn't allow an athletic Wildcats squad to get into transition at all. Throughout the game, however, they couldn't keep Arizona from owning the offensive boards, and once they started converting putback opportunities down the stretch the Wolverines couldn't hold on—after scoring just two points off nine first-half offensive rebounds, the Wildcats had six critical second-chance points from their eight second-half opportunities. Boxing out, as it turns out, is a critical detail.
Michigan led by 11 points after the first possession of the second half on the strength of an outstanding performance by Glenn Robinson III (right, Fuller), who had 16 points on a perfect 7/7 mark from the field at halftime. For the first time all season, Robinson consistently created his own offense, beginning with a nifty head fake in the post that led to a layup for his first points of the game. Robinson was a non-factor in the latter stanza, however, adding just three points on 1/2 shooting, and the team managed just 12 points—three on a desperation Spike Albrecht shot with two seconds left—in the final 7:55.
The Wolverines still had their opportunities in the late going. The teams played dramatic back-and-forth basketball in the final couple minutes. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play gave Arizona their first lead since the opening minutes with 2:32 to play, Mitch McGary retook control with a pair of free throws, then Brandon Ashley and Nik Stauskas traded quick baskets. Then, when Michigan looked to have the Wildcats scrambling for a good look, McGary picked up a very questionable touch foul on the perimeter; Arizona's Nick Johnson, who played outstanding defense against Stauskas all afternoon, rattled both free throws home with 24 seconds left.
Michigan then tried pushing it up the court for a quick shot; Stauskas got a decent look at a long two but couldn't get it to fall, and the Wildcats had the possession arrow when McGary tied up Aaron Gordon for the rebound. Johnson sunk another pair of free throws, Albrecht managed just a split after Arizona intentionally fouled him with seven seconds left, and Johnson essentially iced the game with a third consecutive perfect trip to the line. While Albrecht made it interesting with a pull-up three with two seconds left, the last-gasp prayer by Stauskas after a missed Arizona free throw only found backboard.
Despite the loss, there were many encouraging signs for Michigan. Robinson's first half certainly qualified, as did another strong second half from Caris LeVert, who finished second on the team with 15 points on 6/15 shooting, ten of those coming after the break. Jon Horford played 25 strong minutes, tallying four blocks—all in the first half—and throwing down a huge dunk on Gordon for his only points of the game. While Derrick Walton was limited to one point in just 14 minutes, Albrecht ran the offense well, dishing out four assists in addition to hitting three of his four attempts from downtown.
In the end, though, Arizona's size and athleticism simply overwhelmed; seven different Wildcats had an offensive rebound (five with 2+), and the massive front line of Gordon, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined to score 46 points on 21/37 shooting.
"It gives us great confidence," said Beilein, referring to hanging in there against a team he praised highly. "But also an attitude to come back and get better now."
The path to improvement, of course, begins with the details.
Hey kids. The Michigan Theater's hosting a premiere of a documentary that may be up your alley tomorrow at 7. It's a documentary about a not-very-good Indiana high school basketball team:
It's getting excellent reviews, and was put together by Ann Arbor/Michigan folk, including Davy Rothbart of FOUND. And you can get in free(!) just by mentioning MGoBlog at the box office. It does not get better than that. Except maybe going 9-3. That would be awesome.
Anyway: Thursday, 7, Michigan Theater, an Indiana basketball team. There are also showings in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids; mention the blog and you'll get in free there as well.
"DEAL WITH IT" –Dead Hawk to itself.
IMPORTANT. Here is a story from Don Cherry that he posted on twitter.
1) A big beautiful hawk was killed on North Sheridan Way Service Road last night. How can anybody kill a beautiful bird like that?
2) The bird had to be seen. I can understand, although sad, when I see a squirrel killed on the road, the way they dart in and out .
3) But this hawk did not know how to time it when to get out of the way of as a car comes. Sad. I love hawks. They always look so cool as
4) they sit on a tree like they should be wearing sun glasses.
Sometimes multi-part tweets seem like nouveau free verse with their accidental breaking points and garbled syntax, and this one culminates with the image of a Hawk Cop keeping his eye out for you. Serve and protect (mice not included). Sometimes twitter is great. Other times it's MACK BROWN IS DEAD (I'm not dead yet!).
Also not dead yet. There were reports from campus that Devin Gardner was wearing a sling to classes during the year, and at the bust yesterday he shows up on crutches and in a walking boot.
I FEEL HAPPY
Is there any part of Devin Gardner that is not broken? Is it even possible to judge Gardner's junior year, given that for most of it he was a broken assemblage of bones grinding against bones entirely other than the ones they were supposed to grind against*? For the love of God can someone protect this man?
Hoke says Gardner's issue is turf toe. This will prevent him from practicing this week but won't affect his availability for the bowl, because Devin Gardner is quarterback Rasputin.
*["Hey, tibia, fancy seeing you here. Aren't you supposed to be hanging out with, oh, what's his name? Femur? The big fellow."
AHHHHHHHHHH IT BURNS
"Yes, well I imagine it must. You seem to be getting smaller and there are many more of you."
I AM DISINTEGRATINGGGGGGGGGGGggggggggg
"Strange folk, those leg bones. Don't you think so, ulna?"
Here is a weird thing on Wednesday. Michigan finishes their first-half schedule with a game against Ferris State tonight, for some reason. Ferris is off to a hot start itself, currently 4th in the RPI (Michigan has dropped to fifth since we last checked, just because other team have won games and leapt up) and 13-2-2 overall. The Bulldogs haven't really played anyone outside their conference, splitting against Colgate and St. Lawrence and beating Mercyhurst, but they are scoring tons of goals and are 10-0-2 in the new WCHA.
Center Ice has a preview for you; sounds like there's going to be a lot of pressure on the Michigan defense to escape a heavy forecheck. That is suboptimal. Should be a good one… on a Wednesday. For some reason.
Here's another weird thing. Brennan Serville will return to the lineup tonight. He's displacing Mike Chiasson, leaving converted forward Andrew Sinelli on the ice. Sinelli's played pretty well since moving back to defense. He's small but his puck skills are above average for the position and he's a good skater with relatively good pop for a guy his size. I've noticed him more than Chiasson, certainly, and while Serville is still a mistake factory he's much better with the puck on his stick than Chiasson, and Michigan's going to need to move the puck against Ferris's aggressive forecheck.
Here's yet another weird thing. Michigan is legendarily averse to post touches, something I've been fine with for the most part. Michigan's personnel hasn't lent itself to dumping it on the block and letting someone try to score, and that's not Beilein's wheelhouse, so okay. But with Mitch McGary rounding into shape, Beilein asserts that we might see more than 1% of Michigan's possessions feature a large man on the block:
For those calling for post-entry plays, Michigan coach John Beilein tossed out a modicum of hope on Wednesday morning.
“I think everyone should stay tuned to that because that’s been a process,” Beilein said in an interview with “The Michigan Insider” show on WTKA-AM (1050). “But sometimes we stay away from it, sometimes it frustrates us, sometimes it’s been good to us.”
One of the primary guys calling for post entries has in fact been Sam Webb, who asked the question that led to that answer. Personally, my prescription for success is running a ton of pick and roll with McGary, Stauskas and LeVert. Michigan's gone away from the P&R a lot this year without Burke and the results have been… iffy.
Here's a usual thing that is still a little bit weird. Remember last year when I kept saying that Michigan was just unbelievably young? And that this would get much better the next year even with the departures of Burke and Hardaway? About that.
And that's likely to drop as the season goes on and McGary sucks up more of Horford and Morgan's minutes. This is significant improvement on last year, in fact—their experience number was 0.73—but when you're so far down the list you have to improve more than that to make any real headway.
Not particularly surprising aside: the nation's least experienced team is Kentucky. Kansas is third. Kansas has lost three of their last four and Kentucky is 8-2 with losses to MSU and Baylor and a best win over Providence. It is hard to be young, sometimes, even when you have guys on your roster NBA teams are slavering over.
QWASH speech issues. Quinton Washington's speech was the highlight of the bust, as he opened up about the speech issues that had been the thing politely not mentioned about him ever since his recruitment:
"Coming here, it was hard for me to even pick up a phone," said Washington, who has struggled with speech problems his entire life. "I couldn't order at a restaurant."
Five years ago, Quinton Washington couldn't order food.
This is a problem when you are 300 pounds. Read the whole thing; Washington is a fine example of the reasons you root for the kids inside the uniforms instead of just the uniforms.
Etc.: Michigan is +3.5 against K-State, which sounds about right. I mean okay yeah Michigan blew a late lead to the NTDP, but I mean… Luke Dwyer was in. I'm not bothered. 23 minutes of Jeremy Gallon highlights. RIP Don Lund. Doesn't sound like any juniors are exploring the NFL draft.
Photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog. Optional, highly recommended soundtrack.
While most of you were probably watching football, Michigan blasted an overmatched Houston Baptist squad this afternoon, tying a school record with 16 three-pointers en route to posting an absurd 1.64 points per possession and winning literally every statistical battle.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 25 points, shooting a scorching 6/9 from downtown and looking quite spry on his previously-injured ankle after being rendered completely ineffective Tuesday at Duke. Glenn Robinson III scored 17 points on 6/9 shooting, mostly getting his buckets in transition, including a couple of spectacular alley-oops. Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin each posted 14 points; Irvin was very effective wit his perimeter shooting (2/2 2-pt, 3/5 3-pt) while Walton was a perfect 3/3 from downtown.
The story of the game, however, was Mitch McGary, Fast Break Point Guard Extraordinaire. The master of chaos finished with a stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds (one off.), six assists—tying his career high from last year's Syracuse game—four steals, and a block; five of his six dimes came in transition, as did a couple of his buckets.
#10's face pretty much says it all (Fuller)
"He's one of our better push men," John Beilein said in the post-game radio interview, referring to McGary's ability to start the fast break. "I don't think anyone wants to take a charge from him."
No kidding. I can't describe the experience of watching McGary charge down the court any better than The Wolverine's Andy Reid:
Mcgary leading a break is like seeing a car skitter uncontrollably down an icy hill, then whip around perfectly into a parallel parking spot
— Andy Reid (@AReid_Wolverine) December 7, 2013
For a brief moment in the second half, it looked like McGary's day had skittered to a halt; after attempting to block a Houston Baptist shot, he fell hard onto his back and lay on the court in what appeared to be a good deal of pain. Being Mitch McGary, however, he popped up to his feet, attempted to wave Jon Horford away from the scorer's table, and waved for the crowd to cheer louder as he skipped—no, seriously, skipped—to the bench. The crowd obliged.
From there, McGary continued to put on a show, a freakily-skilled bull on parade leaving terrified defenders in his wake. Yes, it was a rote blowout against a bad team—the 54-point final margin was the largest for Michigan under Beilein—but it was a pleasure to watch. If this is Mitch McGary still rounding his way into shape, I can't wait to see what he looks like at full strength.