Michigan opens the season on—[checks
watch smartphone]—oh lord, Tuesday, so it's time to get to this previewin' business. Of course, we already have an entire book dedicated to this, and you should probably check that out, as it goes into far more detail than I'm capable of doing here.
I'm dividing up the team like we did in the book for the positional previews: bigs, wings, and point guards. For the purposes of this preview, I'm considering Glenn Robinson III a wing, though he'll get plenty of run as the nominal power forward when Michigan goes to a smaller, more Beilein-friendly lineup. On that note, let's start with the men up front.
Measurables: 6'10", 255
Base Stats: 19.7 minutes, 7.5 points, 59.8 FG%, 44.2 FT%, 6.3 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 16.0 OR% (10th nationally), 22.4 DR% (86th), 3.9 Blk%, 2.4 Stl%
After Jordan Morgan's ankle injury near the end of the 2012-13 regular season, Mitch McGary ascended from highly-touted freshman energy guy to do-everything future All-American with a remarkable run in the NCAA tournament. McGary averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the Big Dance, dished out six assists (previous career high: two) to break the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone in the national semifinal, recorded eight steals in two games against Kansas and Florida, and generally performed like a guy once considered a top-two prospect in his class.
The tournament performance vaulted McGary onto just about every preseason All-American list, often as the first-team center. That's a lot of hype generated largely by a six-game stretch, though McGary—who started his freshman year slow after an injury hampered his conditioning—displayed flashes of greatness from the get-go, pulling down rebounds and forcing turnovers at a very high rate all season.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the big man breakdown, with some bonus '90s rap nostalgia.]
His development is the key to Michigan's success this year, especially if John Beilein is serious about transitioning to a starting lineup featuring two post players with McGary at the four. For that to work, McGary has to refine his jump shot, develop some semblance of a post-up game, and move the ball like he did against 'Cuse to keep the offense from bogging down. According to the assistant coaches, so far so good, per a WTKA interview via UMHoops:
“I thought this summer that Mitch did a tremendous job with increasing his shooting range,” [Bacari] Alexander said. “In the summer, we all were excited to see Mitch because, in addition to his motor, he was able to add the ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays for others in a controlled situation versus what he used to be as a freshman, which was a bull in a china shop. Having said that, I thought he really did a nice job knocking down perimeter jumpers from 3, as he was working on his migration plan to the four position. There were days when he was really dominant, and that excited all of us.”
If McGary is knocking down threes with consistency, all bets are off this season (in a good way); even in the more likely event that he sticks to more comfortable baseline jumpers—like the one he hit over Jeff Withey in the Kansas game—that added dimension opens up a lot for the offense, especially in terms of their ability to properly space the floor. McGary being able to step out and hit shots not only opens up room for the rest of the offense to operate, it theoretically draws one of the opponent's best rebounders and shot-blockers away from the basket; if teams respond by going to a zone, McGary can reprise his role against Syracuse and operate as a distributor from the high post.
What do we know we're getting from McGary? Top-notch rebounding, consistent defensive pressure, relentless effort, exceptional outlet passing, and at the very least flashes of NBA-level skill. You'll see your fair share of floor-burns and no-look passes, 50-foot outlets and shots pinned against the glass—if McGary is one thing, he's exciting to watch.
What does McGary need to do to become full-time Tournament McGary? Establishing himself as a post scorer is a top priority, as is cutting down on fouls (4.8 committed/40 mins last year). Improving his woeful free-throw shooting may be the most important thing, however: if he keeps shooting sub-50% from the charity stripe, Hack-a-Mitch will be a legitimate strategy for stopping Michigan's offense. There are also concerns about durability: last year's slow start may be repeated this season due to a nagging back injury—just read between the lines here and you get the sense that he may not be at full strength until midseason.
The uncertainty of McGary's health and his role in the offense may be enough to keep him from living up to the sky-high preseason hype; even if that happens, he'll be one of the best big men in the country and capable of carrying the team for stretches on both ends of the floor.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "Sabotage" — Beastie Boys
No, I didn't just choose this because McGary is white, though he seems like the Wolverine who'd best fit into one of the Beastie Boys's ridiculous music videos.
Everything from the feel of the song—CHAOS—to the lyrics—"'Cause what you see you might not get/And we can bet, so don't you get souped yet"—sum up both McGary's beyond-energetic court presence and the wide variance of his potential performance.
The Bottom Line: Either McGary or GRIII is the key to the season—one (or preferably both) have to live up to their lottery pick potential if Michigan is going to contend for the Big Ten title. McGary's health and conditioning are points of legitimate concern; if he comes out at or near full strength, though, he could very well be the best center in the country.
Year: Redshirt senior
Measurables: 6'8", 250
Base Stats: 15.9 minutes, 4.6 points, 57.7 FG%, 4.3 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 13.4 OR%, 18.8 DR%, 3.5 fouls/40
Morgan is the forgotten piece to this year's puzzle even though he could very well start alongside McGary. The nature of his game helps explain this—when going through my GIFs from last season, the only one of Morgan I could find aside from his game-sealing dunk against Syracuse showed him embellishing contact just enough to draw an offensive foul against AJ Hammons.
More than anybody else on the team, Jordan Morgan is a known quantity. He's a solid rebounder, efficient converter of shots he doesn't create—though, yes, with a maddening proclivity for missing the occasional bunny—and excellent positional defender with a knack for making Beilein's favorite defensive play: drawing a charge. He's not a stellar post scorer, lacks the explosive athleticism to be a big-time shot blocker, and isn't going to contend for much in the way of postseason honors.
This is fine, as Michigan has plenty of those guys on the roster. What Morgan brings is experience, rebounding, and defense—that very well may be what a young Wolverines roster needs in the starting lineup, or if Robinson and Zak Irvin prove to be capable defenders at the four then Morgan could find himself limited to role player status.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "Concrete Schoolyard" — Jurassic 5
Jurassic 5 was the most team-oriented rap group out there—in their original iteration, they boasted four emcees and two DJs, focused on harmonies as much as the rhymes themselves. They're Morgan's style, as evidenced by this song's chorus, which talks about J5's lack of "rabbit in the hat tricks" in favor of "just that classic/rap s*** from Jurassic." You know what to expect from Morgan, just as you do from J5; while that's kept both from reaching the pantheon of their respective areas of expertise, each has made the most of what they are—in Morgan's case, an unknown 6'8" center lacking in athleticism and any major offers, and in J5's a group of rappers incapable of launching a successful solo career.
The Bottom Line: Morgan could be anything from the starting center to the second or third man off the bench, and it almost entirely depends on players besides Morgan himself. While he's probably reached his ceiling as a player, that ceiling isn't bad at all—being a decent finisher, good rebounder, and excellent defender who stays on the floor makes him an above-average college center, period. If that's your seventh or eighth man, your team is going places.
Year: Redshirt junior
Measurables: 6'10", 250
Base Stats: 8.8 minutes, 2.7 points, 57.6 FG%, 2.2 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 10.6 OR%, 19.6 DR%, 6.1 Blk%, 6.5 fouls/40
Horford was originally tabbed as the starter last season after Morgan's sprained ankle took him out of the lineup, and this made a good deal of sense—he's essentially the same player as Morgan, just with much more shot-blocking ability, a history of injuries that have hampered his development, and a foul rate that even McGary thinks is a little out of control.
While Horford is probably behind Morgan in the big man pecking order, he should still see plenty of minutes, especially since he'll likely be the starting center next season with Morgan graduated and McGary almost certainly off to the NBA. He's a more athletic option than Morgan—hence all the blocks—and displayed flashes of a developing inside game in his limited minutes last season. Horford projects to play around the same number of minutes, and any contribution he makes beyond protecting the rim and hauling in rebounds is a bonus; that said, he has the talent to do more if given the opportunity.
RS Soph. Max Bielfeldt (6'7", 245): Bielfeldt averaged five minutes per game in 20 appearances but wasn't a factor down the stretch. With all of the bigs returning, it's hard to see him getting more than a few minutes here or there at the four, where he provides solid rebounding for his size, especially on offense. His role may disappear entirely with the arrival of...
Fr. Mark Donnal (6'9", 230): Donnal is a classic Beilein stretch four, capable and comfortable stepping out and knocking down threes while possessing enough size/grit to still hold his own on the boards. Donnal appears to be in line for a redshirt, but he also possesses a skillset unlike anyone else on the roster—he could emerge as a situational option much like Caris LeVert did as a defensive stopper last year.