Jordan Morgan started the 2010-2011 season with very low expectations. A redshirt freshman at the time, Morgan had yet to step foot in a Michigan uniform and was a relatively unknown commodity out of University of Detroit Jesuit. But after outperforming nearly anybody’s expectations his first year in blue — he averaged nine points and 5.4 rebounds and started every game — expectations rose tremendously for the 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore this season.
In reality, with the departure of Darius Morris, it was unfair to assume that Morgan would improve by leaps and bounds offensively as a sophomore. Morris and Morgan had obvious chemistry on the pick and roll, and Morgan was the benefactor of countless highlight-reel passes from Morris. It would take some time to gel with a new point guard in Trey Burke. Fair or not, Morgan was still expected to produce at a high level and to take strides forward. His season was a bit tumultuous but when all was said and done, his numbers didn’t look too different from last season — 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Two point shooting: While Morgan did take 49 fewer shots this season than he did last season, he was equally proficient around the basket. Morgan shot 61.9 percent from inside the 3-point arc, good for second in the conference. Last season, he was at 62.7 percent. Also like last season, a majority of his buckets were either dunks or layups. Still, Morgan has continued to prove that he can finish around the basket — a quality that the Wolverines certainly needed from their only true post player this season and one they will continue to benefit from in the coming years.
Discipline & Fouls: With fellow big man Jon Horford out for the season with a foot injury, Morgan became Michigan’s only true option at center. In other words, if Morgan got in foul trouble, the Wolverines interior offense and defense was in trouble. That was unfortunate news given Morgan’s freshman track record with foul trouble.
Morgan averaged 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes as a freshman, fouling out of two games and finishing 14 with four fouls. As a sophomore he brought that average down to 3.9 fouls per 40 minutes, never fouled out and picked up four fouls in just six contests. Morgan still picked up some cheap ones – who doesn’t in the Big Ten? – and his block numbers regressed somewhat but he made definite improvement on a team that values avoiding fouling as much as any.
High energy: It’s no secret that Jordan Morgan isn’t the biggest of big men in the Big Ten. Most nights, he’s the smaller man in the middle. John Beilein stressed more than once this season that in order for Morgan to be most effective, he’s got to bring high energy. High energy can mean anything from aggressive rebounding on the offensive glass to tough defense. This year, Morgan took strides in those and many other intangibles that can’t be seen on the stat sheet. His offensive rebounding numbers were up from last season, and his defense, which was average at best during his freshman campaign, showed signs of serious improvement against some of the nation’s best centers.
Room for Improvement
Scoring variety: Morgan wasn’t recruited as a guy who would receive the ball in the paint and score on a regular basis. Still, Michigan would like to see him develop some type of post game. In his freshman season, nearly all of his buckets came on layups or dunks. This year wasn’t much different. Morgan doesn’t need to be a jack-of-all trades post player in the mode of Jared Sullinger but just one consistent go-to move could be a game changer. If Morgan is going to become an elite big man in the Big Ten, he has to improve on his ability to score in different ways in the paint whether it’s a face up jumpshot, baby hook or anything else.
Free Throws: Morgan shot just 56.2 percent from the line as a freshman. As a sophomore, he shot just 50.8 percent and 46.2 percent in Big Ten games. On top of that, Morgan got to the line 12 times fewer (61) than his freshman season (73). Most would figure that a full year under Morgan’s belt would only help improve his confidence at the line. That wasn’t the case this year. Expect Morgan to spend plenty of time at the charity stripe this offseason.
Pick and Roll Chemistry: With Darius Morris at the point, Morgan thrived in the pick and roll. The two made it look easy. Michigan’s pick-and-roll was effective throughout the 2011-12 season but more of the scoring load was shouldered by Trey Burke. Morgan showed flashes of chemistry but never seemed to get the ball on the roll quite as often as he did with Morris. Morris and Burke are very different players both in style and stature but there’s little doubt that an off season in the gym will improve the Burke to Morgan connection.
Shining Moment: On a night where all eyes of the college basketball world were focused on Ann Arbor, Morgan had arguably the best game of his career. Morgan poured in 11 points and collected 11 rebounds en route to his first career double-double against Jared Sullinger and No. 6 ranked Ohio State. Morgan held Sullinger to 14 points on just 6-of-14 shooting and the 56-51 win was pivotal in Michigan’s late-season run to a conference title. ( Runner Up: A season-high 16 points [7-of-11 shooting] and six rebounds in a valiant 66-64 comeback loss at Arkansas.) Bottom Line
Overall, it wasn’t quite the year most — including Morgan himself — would have hoped for. Morgan was slightly less efficient offensively, used fewer possessions and turned the ball over more often than a year ago. His rebounding numbers on both ends saw a slight up-tick and he avoided foul trouble but that led to a rather insignificant increase in playing time. The (slight) offensive regression can be attributed to the loss of Darius Morris but also Morgan’s inability to expand his offensive game. Morgan and Burke did make strides throughout the year, and the two should continue to do so heading into next year.
Jordan Morgan will be one of the only returning pieces in a 2012-13 front court that will feature a multitude of fresh faces. Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz are gone and they’ll be replaced by Jon Horford, Mitch McGary, Max Bielfeldt and Glenn Robinson III. The frontcourt dynamics will shift but how much Morgan’s role shifts remains to be seen on a number of internal and external factors.
With so many question marks in the front court, it’s probably safe to bet that that Morgan can provide a solid rebounding presence and finish at a 60% rate around the basket. There’s room for that player in just about any rotation.