Michigan big men step up in McGary’s absence


Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational pjgo_8IJWWUl[1]With Mitch McGary out for Michigan’s 68-65 victory against Stanford, it was up to the three Wolverines rotating at center — Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Max Bielfeldt — to step up. While they weren’t perfect, the committee of big men answered the call and made plays down the stretch integral to Michigan’s important win in Brooklyn.

Morgan notched the lion’s share of minutes at the five with 24. Bielfeldt followed with 12, and Horford was on the court for six. Together, the trio held down the center spot for the Wolverines. Michigan doesn’t know how long McGary is going to be sidelined. But as long as he’s absent from the lineup, Michigan’s bigs know there are opportunities to be had.

“We just had to stay ready,” Morgan said during the post-game press conference following the victory. “All three of us, we knew we’d have an opportunity today with Mitch down. Max came in today and he was ready, he’s been practicing really well. He stepped in and had great minutes for us. Jon, he had limited minutes but he made big plays too. He had a great pass down the stretch. I think it was about all of us just staying ready for when that moment came.”

The way the referees called the game inside complicated matters for John Beilein and resulted in a revolving door for Michigan in the post. This was especially true when it came to Jon Horford. The redshirt junior started the game but racked up five fouls in the mere six minutes he was on the court. He was far from the only player in foul trouble — Morgan eventually fouled out and Bielfeldt ended up with four.

Beilein said he never considered burning freshman forward Mark Donnal’s redshirt, though for a while it seemed as though he’d have to in order to avoid an all-guard lineup.

“It was going to be a very physical game from the beginning and they called it very tight, but it was consistent,” Beilein said after the game. “That’s what most of us coaches want, is this consistency. So as a result, we just had to scramble.”

As it turned out, each player contributed to Michigan’s victory in his own way.

Morgan had the most impact and played one of his best games of the season. Michigan’s elder statesman finished with eight points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal. But much of his contribution occurred outside the stat sheet. In the first half, Morgan made an absolutely terrific outlet pass to Caris LeVert after corralling the defensive rebound, initiating a fast break; LeVert then got the ball to Nik Stauskas downcourt for a dunk. Later, Morgan drew a charge in the second half. Throughout the game, he consistently poked the ball away on entry passes and fronted his man effectively.

Bielfeldt contributed solidly, though at times it was clear he was overmatched. He fought hard inside for his three rebounds, and drew a foul going after one on the defensive end. He also forced a travel in the second half in providing help defense.

Horford only played six minutes but still managed to contribute — his pass from the high post to Glenn Robinson III cutting baseline for a dunk was one of the more heads-up plays of the game.

“I was just doing what we work on every day,” Morgan said of his performance. “Staying connected with my teammates, making plays to help us win. Taking charges, things like that, just doing whatever I can. It’s just about us bigs being ready to step up if someone is down or we have foul trouble or anything like that.”

Michigan’s center-by-committee strategy worked with McGary out, but it was complicated significantly by how tightly the referees were calling the game inside. This seemed to be an especially difficult obstacle for Horford. But at the end of the day, the bigs made plays.

This is especially true if you count Robinson as an honorary member of the club of Michigan centers. The sophomore made arguably the biggest play of the game from the center position after Morgan fouled out late, facing up his defender at the top of the key and driving to the hoop for a left-handed finish with 14 seconds left.

“Coach asked me if I could play the five and I said, yeah if the team needs me to do that,” Robinson said. “We just ran our regular offense. Good thing I paid attention a little bit in practice.”

  • BlueBasketeer

    Morgan played a decent game, but Horford was awful. Just simply awful. He’s a fourth year player, and he picks up 5 fouls in 6 minutes?? With zero rebounds and one basket (only made possible by a great pass from Albrecht)? He would have done more good if he’d just stood in one place with his hands up the whole time he was out there. Why is it that Beilein can’t teach his big men to play real defense?

    • Wayman Britt

      I understand what you are saying, it seems Horford has not learn how to play defense over the last couple of years. He is very inconsistent. Not sure the problem is Beilein’s teaching big men, but rather lies in Horford’s court.

      • BlueBasketeer

        The fact is, though, that none of our big men are playing decent defense this year, not even Morgan, who is a fifth year player, and Horford, who is a fourth year player.

    • guestavo

      Did you not see the Arizona game? The officiating crew for the Stanford game didn’t *let* him play defense.

      • BlueBasketeer

        What do you mean “didn’t let him”? Are you seriously blaming 5 fouls in 6 minutes on the officials being corrupt or incompetent? They just all got together at the start of the game and said “let’s make sure Horford fouls out as fast as possible”? They just ginned up 3 or 4 bogus foul calls because they didn’t like the way he looked at them? Seriously, when was the last time you saw someone with Horford’s experience draw 5 fouls in 6 minutes of playing time, even in tightly whistled game?

        • Daoofgeek

          Did you watch the game?! At least 2 of his fouls were absolute garbage and he wasn’t the only victim of the abysmal officiating (and that even includes Stanford).

          It seems like you already have your mind made up about it and while, at times, I do get frustrated with his up and down play, last night I put most of that blame on the inconsistent calls.

        • AADave

          The officiating inside was obviously beyond horrible. Michigan’s 3 bigs picked up 14 fouls in only 42 minutes. So in very limited minutes (14 minutes on average apiece), 2/3 fouled out and the third was one foul away from fouling out. They literally almost fouled out Michigan’s entire front court in very limited minutes.

          So I don’t think it was Horford’s fault. It is amazing that Michigan was able to win this game without McGary and the their entire front court crippled by fouls.

        • MAZS

          Agreed. Just as umpires have different strike zones, basketball officials call games differently from one another–I know, in a perfect world, that wouldn’t happen–and sometimes even from game-to game. As a player you have to adjust. You just do–whether it is right or wrong. Horford made no adjustment whatsoever–in fact, it didn’t even look like he tried to. Questionably called game–probably. Conspiracy–no.

    • AlwaysBlue

      Didn’t Morgan make the conference All Defensive team last season? I don’t think Horford’s performance is on John Beilein.

    • Jeff

      I thought the same thing about Horford at first glance so I went back and looked at his five fouls. The two in the first half were very tight but kind of understandable. Of the three in the second half, one was very tight but kind of understandable, one was bordering on a phantom call, and the final one was one of the most obvious charges in the world, but the official decided to call it on Horford anyway, who was a statue in the lane for a good two seconds before the Stanford player slammed in to him while totally out of control. That one nearly changed the outcome of the game too. Keep in mind, when I looked at these plays, I was looking to justify my opinion that Horford played like a knucklehead, but didn’t find that to be the case at all. In short, the officials were incompetent in this game, not sure why that’s so hard to believe.

  • Mtung

    As a whole, the UM defense struggles. Perhaps Mr. Britt can address this more clearly than I can, but our guards, especially Spike, Derrick and Caris rarely “turn” their opponent once they begin their dribble penetration. Why not, at least to mix things up, force the overplay early on, make the penetrator switch from his dominant hand to his weaker hand. There seems to be very few college players who can effectively dribble more than 2-3 times with their offhand on a move to the basket (even Stauskas dribbled off his leg trying to use his left hand on his move late in the game/GR3 had a great move to his left while playing the “5” but only dribbled twice). At this point, how can it hurt to try something different?

  • AADave

    The inside officiating in this game seemed unusually tight and almost fouled out Michigan’s big men in very limited minutes. I thought I’d look at this game and compare to Michigan’s previous games. Here are the number of minutes for Michigan’s bigs (McGary, Horford, Morgan, Bielfeldt), number of fouls against various opponents and minutes played per foul:

    UMass-Lowell 40 min 3 fouls 13.3 min/foul
    South Carolina St. 43 min 4 fouls 13.25 min/foul
    Iowa St. 40 min 7 fouls 5.7 min/foul
    Long Beach St. 41 min 7 fouls 5.8 min/foul
    Florida St. 45 min 5 fouls 9 min/foul
    Charlotte 61 min 10 fouls 6.1 min/foul
    Coppin St. 60 min 6 fouls 10 min/foul
    Duke 43 min 5 fouls 8.6 min/foul
    Houston Baptist 49 min 4 fouls 12.25 min/foul
    Arizona 43 min 7 fouls 6.2 min/foul
    Stanford 42 min 14 fouls 3.0 min/foul

    The Stanford game is an extreme outlier. Fouls were called on Michigan’s bigs at almost TWICE the rate of the next closest game in min/foul and about THREE times the average (9.0 min/foul) for other games this year. This would be significant in any game but even more so when Michigan’s best big is out of the game and the entire front court comes within one foul of being completely fouled out while playing fewer than average minutes.

    I strongly suspect that the officiating rather than the play of Michigan’s bigs was the difference. It’s unfortunate that officiating (as in last year’s title game) can make such a huge difference. What do others here think?

    • MGoTweeter

      I agree that this game was an outlier in terms of the amount of fouls on the bigs but I do think there are some obvious reasons why that was the case. The first is that Michigan actually played pretty physical in the post for an entire game. Hard to say that about any other game. Second, Stanford posted their big men against Michigan’s big men probably more than any other team this year. Almost every possession one of their bigs got a touch. Third, Morgan, Horford and Bielfeldt all committed at least one terrible foul out in the open. Horford with an obvious shove in the back on a rebound attempt early in the game right in front of the official, Morgan tripping a Stanford player from behind under the basket again in front of the official, and Bielfeldt going over the back on a free throw miss. Those were all blatant fouls and easy calls for the refs. The final reason is that the refs probably were not that great this game, but I have seen worse this season.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    I really hope Morgan can take this opportunity and take advantage…he has not been the same since Mitch stepped up…if Horford & Biefeldt can grab boards we should be good, I find it hard to believe they can contribute offensively…this is tough considering it Big Ten season is right around the corner…

    • Kam

      Horford is better than Morgan offensively in almost every-way. Morgan is the worst offensive big man I’ve seen in awhile for his amount of experience and how good he once was

      • Fab 5 Legends

        your right, Morgan has been a disaster, I just cant believe how his game evolved for the worse, I remember trey burke, darius morris dishing to him for easy buckets downlow etc…im not sold on Horford, but I hope 1 of these guys steps up

        • Mattski

          The idea that Morgan is a “disaster” is ridiculous. He made many clutch plays during our run to the championship game last year, and has delivered in the last few games. Piling on like this against a guy who completed an engineering degree in three years and has been so staunch for Michigan is really annoying.

          • Mattski

            It’s even more annoying after he just had a great game! Happy holidays. . .

  • gobluemd16

    If anyone wants to watch the full stream a video is available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mhc1lULt8Lk
    Not sure how long it will be available, but I am going to watch especially for the fouls on the bigs that I thought were especially suspect. AA Dave’s analysis tells a pretty clear story, and I really thought a lot of those calls were straight up bad, to be honest.

  • Dr_ZC

    I watched the game again, and all I can say is that the officials called a lot of unjustified fouls against our bigs. I have to agree that they were incompetent, especially after missing a 10 sec violation against us at the end of the game. Perhaps this was a makeup no-call.

    All in all, I was happy with our defense. We were not perfect in our decision making, but we played tough. Folks blamed our defense for failing to stop them at the end of the game. If one watches the game again, they will see that Stanford made some unbelievable lucky shots off the window. The rest of their points came off the ticky-tacky fouls they called against our bigs.

    • MGoTweeter

      was not a ten second violation. The shot clock started earlier than it should have. If you watch in the embedded video below, the shot clock starts as soon as a michigan player (I believe Levert) touches the ball but the player never gains possession as the ball is knocked to the corner in mid air. Levert runs it down in the corner but the shot clock was already running for some reason. If you time it from when Levert actually gains possession in the corner, it is only about 8.5 seconds until the ball is taken across half court.