This team should be a blast to watch.
I did not make this headline up
Basketball season starts in nine days, which is wonderful news until I realize how far behind I am in the basketball preview (I'm beginning to understand how Brian feels in August, just on a far smaller scale). So far, we've covered the guards/wings; today, it's time to look at the bigs, plus freshman Glenn Robinson III, who will likely play both the three and the four.
Fans of Michigan basketball may be shocked to hear this after the last, oh, decade-plus, but the Wolverines have a little something called 'depth' in the frontcourt this year. While the loss of Zack Novak leaves a hole in the leadership/grit/shooting department and the transfer of Evan Smotrycz hurts depth and shooting, the two highest-touted of Michigan's highly-touted freshman class can replace those minutes at the four. Jordan Morgan returns in the middle. Jon Horford is back from a foot injury that kept him out for most of last season. That's a legitimate four-man rotation up front, and guys like Blake McLimans and even Matt Vogrich—as the Zack Novak Memorial Hilariously Undersized Power Forward—could get minutes up front as well.
Without further ado, your returners, departures, and newcomers:
Returners: PF/C Jordan Morgan, PF/C Jon Horford, PF Blake McLimans, PF Max Bielfeldt
Departures: PF(!) Zack Novak (graduation), PF Evan Smotrycz (transfer)
Newcomers: PF/C Mitch McGary, SF/PF Glenn Robinson III
[Hit THE JUMP for the full breakdown]
#52 JORDAN MORGAN (R-Jr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'8", 250 lbs.
2011-12 Key Stats: 61.9 2pt%, 17.8 DR%, 3.9 fouls committed/40 minutes
Morgan emerged last season as not just a starter-by-default, but a legitimate Big Ten starting center, serving as Michigan's lone true post after Jon Horford went down nine games into the season. While his game is somewhat limited, he does what John Beilein needs him to do: clean up the glass on both ends, set solid screens, and run the floor.
While Morgan doesn't have much in the way of a refined post game, he still hits a stellar 62% of his two-point shots. These are usually created in one of three ways: offensive rebounds (11.9 OR% last year), easy looks off the pick-and-roll, and running the floor on the break (see above). Morgan is well above-average in each of these facets. Unfortunately, that's about the extent of his offensive contribution; he doesn't have a go-to move to create his own shot in the post, hasn't developed a mid-range jumper, and his field goal percentage belies a nasty habit of biffing easy shots.
Despite these shortcomings, Morgan is still a solid, albeit limited, option at center, and should start for the third straight year. He improved last season on the defensive end, especially when it came to commiting fouls—his FC/40 dropped from 5.3 to 3.9, especially important given Michigan's lack of options up front last year. He also took more charges—a staple of Beilein's defensive philosophy—and made strides in his on-ball defense, most notably holding Jared Sullinger to 14 points on 6-14 shooting in Michigan's home victory over Ohio State.
Morgan is not a shot-blocker—as U-M hoops notes, he blocked fewer shots (3) in Big Ten play than Tim Hardaway Jr. (8), Trey Burke (7), and Evan Smotrycz (5), and equaled the output of Stu Douglass; despite his above-average mobility and occasional thunderous dunks, Morgan is not an explosive athlete. Still, if he continue to produce on both ends like he did last year and hopefully add a post move or two, he'll be a player Michigan can confidently ink into the starting lineup night in and night out.
#15 JON HORFORD (R-Soph.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'10", 250 lbs.
2011-12 Key Stats: 9 games, 10.8 minutes/game, 52.9 FG%, 3.6 RPG, 9 blocks
Horford provided a solid alternative to Morgan last year before going down nine games into the season with a foot injury that would hold him out of the team's final 25 games. Before the injury, Horford showed flashes of impressive potential, especially as a rebounder and shot-blocker—in the Maui Invitational, he had 12 points and seven rebounds against UCLA, then recorded four blocks in 19 minutes versus Memphis.
The stark contrast between Horford and Morgan is in their quick-twitch athleticism; unlike Morgan, Horford gets off the floor quickly, allowing him to be a much bigger factor as an interior defensive presence. Like Morgan, Horford runs well and is a threat to get up court and finish on the break. He's an erratic shooter at this point, though he's already shown more potential to make a quality post move than Morgan—he just has to finish.
Horford is the big unknown up front, even moreso than the freshmen. If he delivers on his potential, he could play 25-30 minutes per game and carve seriously into Morgan's minutes, though that's probably unlikely after losing nearly a season's worth of development. If he can't develop his offensive game, he could be squeezed into a marginal role on the fringe of the rotation.
#4 MITCH MCGARY (Fr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'10", 250 lbs.
When Mitch McGary committed last November, choosing Michigan over Duke and Florida, he was hailed as the biggest Wolverine recruiting victory since they pulled in LaVell Blanchard in 1999. It was easy to see why; at the time, McGary was a universal top-five overall prospect with film that jumped off the screen. Also, Duke and Florida, yo.
A disappointing final year at Brewster Academy saw McGary drop into the mid-20s overall in the recruiting rankings, with expectations dialed back from 'potential one-and-done' to 'still good but probably not Chris Webber', which, sure, I can deal. He's likely to make an immediate splash as the starting power forward with Smotrycz out of the picture.
In a way, McGary could be a 6'10" version of Novak. He's hailed for his tireless energy and relentless hustle, and he should be the team's best rebounder from day one while also pushing the tempo on the break. He's a versatile threat who can post up or get to the hoop off the dribble and even hit the occasional mid-range jumper.
At worst, McGary should be a bundle of energy who provides headaches for both teams—he's going to have to take care of the ball and make sure he stays out of foul trouble. At best, he can provide Michigan's most dynamic scoring option up front along with being their best rebounder, while also providing a spark with his blocks and Cowens-esque dives onto the court for loose balls. He should be a whole lot of fun to watch either way, except when he's driving you crazy, which hopefully won't be too often. Who knows, we might even get a shattered backboard for our troubles.
#1 GLENN ROBINSON III (Fr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'6", 210 lbs.
Already a four-star prospect who ranks #34 nationally in the class of 2012, Robinson continues to take his game to new heights. With near 6-foot-7 size, a great frame, deep range and plenty of athleticism, Robinson is one of the most efficient wings in the country.
Capable of operating as a jump shooter, Robinson also has a high post game, scores at the rim and finishes on the break. While he doesn't rely on his athleticism, he has the ability to attack and put people in the rim when he needs to just like his father used to do.
Glenn "Tre" Robinson III—son of former Purdue star and #1 NBA draft pick Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson—made a steady rise from three-star prospect to Rivals's #11 overall player in the 2012 class. Combining remarkable athleticism with a consistent outside shot, Robinson is a type of player that Beilein really hasn't had at Michigan, and he gives the Wolverine head man a lot of options for his lineup. Robinson can be an athletic four that stretches the floor and allows Michigan to go small and play fast; he can be a matchup nightmare at the three; heck, he could even play the two if the Wolverines want to go jumbo.
While Robinson likely won't be the focal point of the offense, he's a heck of a secondary option. If defenders sag off, he can hit jumpers over the top. If they play the outside shot, he'll provide some highlight-reel finishes at the rim. He still needs to develop his ball-handling skills, so we may not see him try to create too often off the dribble; that said, I expect Beilein is busy drawing up plays designed to get him going to the basket. He should slot into the lineup immediate at the three; if not, he'll be one of the best sixth men in the country.
If you can't tell, Robinson is the freshman I'm most excited about. A look at that highlight tape should tell you why. He made huge strides over the course of his senior year with his shooting, strength, and even size—Robinson is reportedly still growing, a frightening thought for future Big Ten opponents. He has the most potential of any player on this team, including Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke. Enjoy seeing him in a Michigan uniform... while you can.
#22 BLAKE MCLIMANS (Sr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'10", 240 lbs.
2011-12 Key Stats: 4.2 minutes/game, 5/9 2pt-FG, 5/12 3pt-FG, 8 blocks
McLimans is a big who plays small on the offensive end, mostly staying out on the perimeter, where he's an effective outside shooter. He's hesitant to bang bodies down low, however, forcing the other players to pick up the rebounding slack when he's manning the middle. Defensively, McLimans is usually overmatched against Big Ten centers, though he uses his length well to come up with his fair share of blocks.
McLimans didn't see the floor often last year despite the loss of Horford and general lack of size. With the team's new-found depth up front, he shouldn't see many minutes outside of mop-up duty unless the frontcourt gets into serious foul trouble.
#44 MAX BIELFELDT (R-Fr.)
Ht./Wt.: 6'7", 245 lbs.
Bielfeldt came to campus last year as a sleeper recruit; after struggling with knee tendonitis, he took a redshirt year and didn't see any game action. He was on the 2/3-star borderline as a recruit, though he could be called upon as a Colton Christian-style energy guy based on his ESPN profile ($):
Bielfeldt is a skilled power forward that rebounds on both ends and plays with great energy and urgency on every possession. His is limited athletically but is consistently productive because of his all business approach on the floor where he simply out works opponents with passion for the game.
Again, with Michigan's depth, Bielfeldt will have a tough time finding available minutes, but his hard-working nature means he could carve out a limited role, especially since he's more skilled than was Christian.
This team should be a blast to watch.
Michigan and Indiana back on top in the conference. It's like 1992 all over again.
I still hate Damon Bailey
If it was 1992, the football team would be undefeated (or at least have taken ND to overtime).
This team is going to be far lot of fun to watch
i can't wait to see what beilein can finally do with some size.
also, it's important to note that by all reports, this is a team of great young personalities. let's hope they continue that reputation.
Rebounding is Bielfeldt's ticket to playing time, and from what Coach B says; Bielfeldt is a very good rebounder, who can also knock down an open look. With the log jam in front of him on the front court, Bielfeldt might not play much this season or next, but his time will come, if he stays healthy. Bielfeldt is a nice guy to have on the bench for the inevitable times when Morgan, Horford and McGary get into foul trouble.
I'm almost worried that my expectations are too high. With a starting lineup likely consisting of Burke/Hardaway/Robinson/Morgan/McGary (wow) and then guys like Horford/Stauskus/Albrecht/Levert/Vogrich coming off the bench, is anything other than a B1G championship considered a dissapointment? How far will they have to go in the tourney to live up to all this hype?
Really looking forward to watching this all play out. Depth is good right.
Some thoughts from ESPNs Tim McCormick on Twitter...
Deep talent. But it hinges on Burke distributing the ball. If Burke has a "hello NBA" season, we'll be a ton of fun to watch and a Dance 2 seed.
If Beilein could fashion last year's talent into Big Ten Champions, I cannot wait to see what he can do with this year's team.