Jordan Morgan has been a constant at the center position for John Beilein over the past three seasons. The 6-foot-8 big man has yet to miss a game since stepping onto the court as a redshirt freshman and has started 85 of Michigan’s last 89 games. After a severe-looking ankle sprain on Sunday afternoon at Illinois, it appears that streak might come to an end.
However, there is some good news. John Beilein reported on Monday night that Morgan didn’t break any bones in his ankle despite a troublesome looking replay.
“We don’t think there’s any break (in his ankle) from the X-rays,” Beilein said Monday night. “It’s a sprain.”
Beilein didn’t have much more to say about the ankle on Tuesday afternoon but he’s not confident in Morgan’s ability to play on Wednesday against Northwestern.
“I don’t expect [Morgan to practice on Tuesday]. Based on seeing the ankle today, I don’t expect that. There’s a lot of discoloration, and we’ll wait and see,” Beilein said. “He probably won’t play tomorrow. We’ll see.”
Morgan’s loss is troubling for the Wolverines given the redshirt junior’s exhaustive experience in Big Ten play and the much-improved defense he has supplied this season. Morgan has been much better at defensive positioning, which has shown itself in the stat sheet as fewer fouls accumulated.
However, Michigan is in a better situation than most teams would be losing their starting center. The Wolverines have the luxury of calling upon three capable backups to take the place of Morgan’s production. Mitch McGary, Max Bielfeldt and Jon Horford stepped up against Illinois, combining for 17 points and 14 rebounds in the win.
“That was a luxury that we had in that game,” Beilein said. “We were pleased with what we got, especially Jon Horford, in that particular game. He’s been working hard, just looking for minutes, looking for things. … They’re really improving, especially defensively.”
For now, there does not appear to be a timetable for Morgan’s recovery.
Michigan is No. 1
As has been already well-publicized, Michigan earned the No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll for the first time since the Fab Five era. Take a wild guess on how John Beilein feels about it.
“I think if we look at the whole season and if you forget about this particular thing, maybe that’s for one or two days or however long it lasts,” Beilein said. “Number ones haven’t fared very well this year, so it’s not that good of a thing, maybe.”
Beilein has emphatically shot down any question about his team’s focus so far this season, and that didn’t change Tuesday. Beilein is obsessively consistent about two things: taking each game as it comes and dismissing the rankings.
He said if he ever changed his ways, his players would notice immediately.
“(The players) would know in a minute if I was thinking ahead. And I’m not. I never have,” Beilein said. “(Northwestern) is the only game that we have right now. I know for the media and for everybody the anticipation for those games are big.”
But for the players, it’s exceedingly difficult to avoid thinking about the No. 1 ranking. In this era that has seen social media largely replacing newspapers as their main source of information, if the players wanted to avoid rankings talk they could hardly get on their computers or their cell phones.
Glenn Robinson III thought avoiding all the talk about it was the toughest part of the ranking itself.
“With all the media, you know, Twitter, Facebook, a lot of people are talking on there, everybody’s kind of talking about how great it feels to be No. 1 since the Fab Five era,” Robinson said. “So I think just trying to block as much as that out as possible and staying focused is the hardest thing.”
Robinson mentioned that it’s best to leave it be in the media, but drop it all when he walks into the gym at the Player Development Center. But it’s hard to leave all of it behind when it even follows you into the classroom.
“All five of us freshmen are in the basketball class, and our teacher kind of announced that when the rankings came out. So that brought a smile to our faces,” Robinson said. “We got a little bit of a round of applause. Everybody’s excited and our job is to try to stay on top.”
Northwestern prep getting easier
About a month ago, Michigan players spoke with media before their Big Ten opener against Northwestern and emphasized that the Wildcats were one of the toughest preps they had all season.
Northwestern’s Princeton-style offense is difficult to guard, but it also employs a 1-3-1 zone defense that varies greatly from the 1-3-1 John Beilein occasionally unveils. However, the preparation for Northwestern seems to have gotten easier since the first matchup between these two teams. Call it a combination of playing the same team again and consistent progress of Michigan’s younger players.
“Us five freshmen, that was pretty tough for us to get the hang of on defense. Going through that process once, that really helped,” Glenn Robinson III said. “That’s one good thing about playing them twice. Now we just have to continue to pick up on the mistakes we made last time and continue to execute off those.”
One added wrinkle to Wednesday’s game against Northwestern is the return of Reggie Hearn. Hearn is leading the team in scoring and is adept at drawing fouls. He was out with an ankle injury for Michigan’s game in Evansville, but he will be back for the game at the Crisler Center.
The Wildcats have surely improved since the first match-up, beating Illinois on the road and Minnesota at home. Despite Michigan’s upcoming high-profile game against Indiana on Saturday, you can bet Beilein is focused on one thing only.
“We’re practicing like it’s the only game left in our season,” Beilein said.