Mailbag: Mitch McGary, Jon Horford Injury, Future Schedule, Depth and More

Dylan Burkhardt

Photo: Dustin Johnston

The UM Hoops mailbag is a collection of questions tweeted to us via Twitter (@umhoops), e-mail or via our Facebook page. Submit your questions at anytime and we’ll answer as many as we can in periodic updates like this.

@jlustig22: @umhoops How far can UM go relying on just 6 guys? Is Beilein not a believer in going to the bench often or does he not trust the reserves?

John Beilein has never been shy about riding his starters. In fact, his stronger teams usually have a much shorter bench than his weaker teams. I can only assume that this phenomenon is because he spends so much time experimenting with other options when things aren’t going as he would like – see 2009 with Grady, Shepherd and Merritt all playing significant time at one point in the season but not others.

Michigan actually played its bench even less last year and his best regular season team, the 2006 team that went to the Sweet 16, at West Virginia had less depth as well.

Here are the statistics for the percentage of minutes played by the bench (Bench Minutes/Total minutes) under John Beilein since 2005:

Year Bench % Rk
2012 22.3% 327
2011 19.3% 337
2010 22.1% 327
2009 35.6% 66
2008 31.6% 147
2007 24.7% 282
2006 20.0% n/a
2005 31.2% n/a
Average 25.9%

Beilein has high expectations and he’s going to play who he trusts at any given time. Right now he trusts his seniors, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, he trusts his freshman point guard and he trusts Tim Hardaway Jr. Down low, Jordan Morgan is establishing that that trust while developing consistency and Evan Smotrycz seems to have carved out a niche as a “shooting five man” at this point.

Barring foul trouble or injuries, I think Beilein is comfortable sticking with these six players – with maybe one shift for Matt Vogrich – in the second half of big games. In the first half, he’ll try to buy rest for his big guns by using Vogrich, Carlton Brundidge, Blake McLimans and perhaps Jon Horford and Eso Akunne depending on their injuries. Vogrich is the guy that can play two positions, has some experience in big games, and seems like a potential player to take some of the burden off of Michigan’s top six. Brundidge is still probably a year away, McLimans provides some offense but struggles on the glass while Akunne is a bit limited, and now injured.

The top group isn’t changing and I think in any individual game Michigan can continue to survive in this fashion. Do you have to worry about Trey Burke wearing down? Sure, I think that’s a concern with any freshman that plays major minutes. However, if Burke plays 35 minutes per game rather than 37 minutes per game for the second half of the conference season I don’t see how that will have any tangible difference on his performance down the stretch.

The lack of depth is truly scary if Michigan were to experience any injuries in the backcourt. It would be extremely difficult for the Wolverines to survive an injury to any one of their top six players at this point because the options behind them on the depth chart aren’t prepared to make an impact.


@JG_82: @umhoops Do you think next year we will see McGary and Morgan on the floor together?

I don’t think that will be your standard lineup, and a lot depends on how Mitch McGary adapts to the offense, but I don’t think it’s impossible. Zack Novak has basically been this team’s power forward by the end of each of the last four seasons so small ball has become par for the course in Ann Arbor. All of the sudden, next season Michigan has significantly more options in the front court than in the backcourt. The combinations that John Beilein will be able to play with are fascinating.

You have: Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, Mitch McGary, Evan Smotrycz, Max Bielfeldt and even Glenn Robinson III. Do you go with an uptempo small ball lineup featuring McGary at the five and Robinson at the four? Michigan’s lineup to start this year with Morgan and Smotrycz? Horford and McGary against bigger teams for a great rebounding frontline?

The options are seemingly endless and Beilein’s biggest problem might be fitting everyone together and keeping people happy. I think McGary starts the year learning the five position but if he adapts quickly could play the four position at times.

@wessamons: @umhoops What do you think is better option [redshirt for Horford or not]? I’m not sure a redshirt year from him helps much going forward

This is an intriguing situation for Michigan. Of the Wolverines three losses without Horford, I wouldn’t say any were because Horford was missing. With regard to Horford’s impact on this season there are a couple things to account for:

  • Jordan Morgan is playing very well and seems to be improving every game.
  • Michigan is the fourth best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten.
  • Stu Douglass is playing significant minutes, shifting Zack Novak to the four position and Evan Smotrycz to the five. That shift up the lineup card presents even less opportunity for Horford to make an impact when he returns.

On the other hand, Horford was probably Michigan’s best rebounder on both ends of the floor in the games and minutes that he did play. I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a significant upgrade over Blake McLimans as a true five. Michigan still faces Ohio State twice, Michigan State again, there’s no doubt that Horford could be a very useful commodity in at least one or two of these games.

You also have to consider the future. Looking down the scholarship chart, a redshirt season would mean that Horford would graduate after the 2014-15 season. That roster features Mitch McGary as a junior, unlikely, Max Bielfeldt as a probable redshirt junior and Mark Donnal as a sophomore. Michigan is still recruiting bigs in the class of 2013 (see: Dominic Woodson) but it’s very likely that the 2014 class will have to feature instant impact bigs. If you redshirt Horford, you have someone lined up to bridge the gap.

Do you risk games this season for a potential scenario two or three years down the road? I’m not sure but it’s something that you have to consider along with how healthy Horford’s foot actually is.

@ali_maki@umhoops You mentioned something about Arkansas making the return trip next year, does that mean Michigan is making a trip to Iowa State too?

Yes. Michigan will play in the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden next fall – I believe Pitt is also confirmed for the same tournament – and will also face Cleveland State at home as one of the lead-in games for that tournament. The Wolverines will have the second leg of three home-and-home series that began this year as well. that means a home game against Arkansas and trips to Bradley and Iowa State.

There have been rumors of another neutral court game and Michigan is in line to get a home game out of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. John Beilein recently mentioned that the Pac 12-Big Ten partnership could have an effect next season, perhaps right before the start of conference play.

Photo: Dustin Johnston

@cb3899: @umhoops Do you think Hardaway Jr. will stay this year?

These situations are always very fluid. If Hardaway explodes over the final two months of the season and is projected as a sure-fire first rounder, he’d have to explore the option. I’m also more confident that Hardaway won’t make the sort of rash, seemingly uneducated, decisions that seem to be prevalent in the college basketball landscape. Tim Hardaway Sr. wasn’t just an NBA All-Star, now he’s an NBA scout. A scout that was actually scouting his own son on Tuesday:

Tim Hardaway — Tim Hardaway Sr. — was in Cincinnati on Jan. 23 to see Syracuse-Cincinnati and planned to be in West Lafayette, Ind., on Tuesday for Purdue-Michigan. Draft preparation in his life as a Heat scout.

Michigan has a player who could go in the first round. He’s a guard, too, and Hardaway knows a little about what it takes to play guard in the NBA. No report has been filed to the Miami bosses, though.

“Not yet,” Hardaway said. “But I will. At some point in time, I will.” … “It will be very strange,” he countered. “But I will tell the truth. I have to. I will put down the good and the bad.”

Hardaway added this on his son’s future:

Tim Sr. said his son won’t decide until after the season whether to return to school for a junior season or enter the Draft to continue the family legacy.

Hardaway has struggled for the last month or so and at this point he’s not high up on many, if any, draft boards. In public comments his dad has always commented on his game in a realistic, even harsh, manner. He doesn’t appear to be the type to plant false delusions of grandeur in Tim Jr.’s head. However, he’s on the radar and it’s impossible to know what will happen if he concludes this season in a similar fashion to the last one.

  • Mith

    I think you’re right on with Hardaway.  If he starts playing like he did down the stretch last year and/or stars in a run to the Elite 8 that’d send his draft stock soaring.  My hope is that he’ll be back next year and be part of what could be a Top10 squad.

  • UM Hoops Fan

    Re: Horford, in my view, all that matters is his health.  If he can go 100%, he should, because the unknowns are too many to try to figure out 2014-15.  Whatever the future holds, his team is having a good year with the chance to do well in the B10 and in March and he could be a part of that.  If he can’t go 100%, then it’s worthwhile to preserve the possibility rather than give a few minutes of tentative play and risk reinjury.

    • Agree. If he’s full go and playing well, throw him in there. If he’s 75% and won’t be that effective, is it worth it? 

  • ChocoJoe

    Should we be worried about who’s playing the 2 next season with the seniors leaving?

    • UM Hoops Fan

      Worried about it?  Not so sure.  Intrigued by the possibilities and aware that we’ll have big shoes to fill?  For sure.  There will be plenty of options: Brundidge in year 2 (I think we can expect a big leap from him), Stauskus, Vogrich, possibly Timmy, although my guess is he’ll stay at the 3.  I think we’ll miss Stu and Zack, but it’s also not like the cupboard will be bare.  

  • maxwell’s demon

    I just don’t see Hardaway being a threat to leave without improving his ball handling and to a lesser extent his consistency and defense.

  • Andy

    Given how perilous things are if Burke were to get hurt and the fact that it would cost them nothing to do it, I think a call to Kelvin Grady after the Sugar Bowl would have been worthwhile.  Probably not as simple as it is in my mind…

    • Jeff Ambro

      That is not going to happen.  Beilein basically ran Grady off the squad because of his penchant for freelancing versus playing within the offense.  

      • Orangeda

        Uh, no, more like Grady didn’t play a lick of defense, and Lee and Merritt did.  For as quick and athletic as Grady was, he couldn’t keep his man in front of him to save his life.

  • Champswest

    IMHO, Hardaway, Burke & McGary will all play at least 3 seasons for UM.

  • AC1997

    Dylan – Here are some other questions for you:

    — Do you think Smotrycz’s struggles coincided with Horford’s injury?  I think he looks a little lost as a 5, even though his defense as a 4 is sketchy.
    — Do you think Beilein tells Brundidge to study tape of Lewis Jackson from Purdue?  That’s the type of player I think Brundidge could become (slashing, attacking, driving guard who rarely shoots from outside) if he wants to play more starting next year.

  • AC1997

    Looking toward 2012-13…..

    I think Vogrich starts the season as the SG and Smotrycz at the PF because I think the lineup needs shooters.  I think Robinson/Staukas will have every chance to unseat Vogrich though. 

    I think your starters (at the beginning of the season) are Burke-Vogrich-Hardaway-Smot-Morgan with the second unit being Brundidge-Staukas-Robinson-McGary-Horford.  I like the energy that second group gives you, the height, and maybe the defense & rebounding….though shooting will be an issue. 

    • Sven187

      I don’t think Vogrich will make it past the exhibition games as a starter.

      • Quaint06

        Absolutely. I’d guess, from Day One, something like Morgan-McGary-GRIII-Hardaway-Burke.
        Or McGary-Smot-GRIII-Hardaway-Burke
        and if Hardaway goes, just insert Rob III, unless he just doesn’t develop well. I actually expect Vogrich to have a hard time averaging 5 minutes a game next year.

  • Michigan4

    Dylan, if I may ask, why do you think McGary and Morgan will not play together much?  McGary is a PF through and through.  He doesn’t have much of a low post game but does have a nice touch out to 20′.  While I can see JB going with a more veteran lineup at the beginning of the season, coach has shown he will play the best players, regardless of what class they are in.  There is no way you can convince me that Tre Robinson and Mitch McGary are less talented than Vogrich and Smotrycz.  By Big Ten play next year, our starting five will be:

    1 – Trey Burke
    2 – Tim Hardaway Jr.
    3 – Tre Robinson
    4 – Mitch McGary
    5 – Jordan Morgan

    This will also give us solid options off the bench to spell any of the young ones, should they get rattled.

    • ColinNer

      Although McGary may project to a PF in the NBA and in many college systems, Beilein’s PF have never been prototypical. He has started Novak and Smotrycz the last two years at the 4. Offensively, Novak and Smotrycz spend more time beyond the 3-point arc then inside. Additionally, when they do go inside, it is the product of a back door cut.

      A reasonable player comparison to McGary is DeShawn Sims. Peedi didn’t post up all that effectively but had range out to 20′. Peedi was almost always Michigan’s tallest guy on the floor and rarely played at the same time as Zach Gibson.

      • Ace_maker4

        True that we rarely saw Sims and Gibson on the court at the same time but did that make it the right decision? I would say no… That team struggled for interior defense and rebounding and when they did play together had some nice high/lo post options as Sims had a nice jumper from the free throw line area.

        McGary has the same sort of range and could certainly draw more attention in the high post for not only feeding Morgan in the low post but kicking out for open 3’s or back door slashers such as THjr and Robinson.

  • AC1997

    My thinking is that more than anything Beilein wants the following from the 5 on the floor:
    1) Know the system
    2) Have multiple guys who can spread the floor with their jump shot
    3) Play defense

    At any given time this season you will see a minimum of two “shooters” on the floor.  I don’t consider Burke, Hardaway, Robinson, McGary, Horford, Morgan, or Brundidge shooters.  I think Vogrich, Staukas, and Smotrycz are your shooters. 

    Now, the problem is that none of those shooters play much D and there’s only three of them.  So it comes down to how quickly the freshmen pick up the O and show they can play D.  I think a lineup of Burke-THJ-GRIII-McGary-Morgan would be the most athletic since the mid 19902, but who is parked in the corner hitting the open 3 if that’s what Beilein wants? 

    My hope is that Beilein takes more of an Izzo persona next year with his bench and mixes/matches more or plays different styles when the second unit comes in.  A more realistic scenario is probably that Vogrich, Robinson, Smotrycz, & McGary will fight it out early in camp and pre-season to figure out who he can count on as starters and who can be that immediate boost off the bench as the 6th man.

    • rlcBlue

      “I don’t consider Burke, Hardaway […] shooters”

      Trey and Tim don’t agree with you. Hardaway led the team in 3 point attempts last year and is doing the same this year; Burke is second.

  • Colby84

    Dylan, great answers. I am anxious about the talent we have coming in next year but really worry about losing the leadership of the seniors especially Novak and his toughness.

    Was wondering if you think an extra 13 ship would go to a guard for example EC Matthews, wing Bo Ziegler or big Dominic Woodson. Big might make more sense for the roster balance you mentioned above but immediately we might need some help in the backcourt. Thanks

  • Skipper

    I see no discussion on Stauskas.  I think that young man will make a difference and could earn a starting position.  He’s so focused.  And he perseveres.  Don’t count him out. 

    • Michigan4

      I completely agree. Stauskas is definitely flying under the radar but I could easily see him earn a starting spot. If they don’t feel comfortable with Tim at the two, Stauskas could slide right in there.
      In my opinion he is a 6’6″ version of Stu that has as much confidence in his slashing ability as he does him jumper. But the kid can flat out shoot.

      • Mattski

        Much as a kid ranked among the top players in the country and on national television as a high schooler can be be “under the radar” in this day and age. But I agree, he will compete for PT, and probably right away. 

  • section13row15

    Colin, do you realize that Deshawn sims was the most effective post up player Beilein has had in his tenure here? He shot some 3’s but operated mostly in the post by his senior year and was darn good at it.

  • P-nickel

    Hardaway jr. Not ready for the next level.