The strength of the Michigan Wolverines this year is almost certainly their experienced (and impressive) frontcourt. Mitch McGary looks to improve on an extremely impressive freshman season, and Glenn Robinson looks to continue being an all-around wonder player. The question, though, is who will step up and be that third big man? Will it be senior Jordan Morgan or will one of the guards swing over instead?
Many words have been written about sophomore Mitch McGary. He was an awkward and clumsy player for a good stretch last year, holding down the back of the rotation and not much else. Then something clicked, and he turned into a big man that could compete with the best of them. He only started eight of 39 games last season, but he ultimately made the best of what he was given, culminating in three double-doubles out of six NCAA Tournament games. He ended up playing just shy of 50% of Michigan's minutes last year, (stats via kenpom.com) but he was certainly a factor when he was on the floor, as evident by his 20.3% usage rate, third on the team (and first among returning players). One of his best skills was his outstanding rebounding; he had a 16% offensive rebounding rate (10th in the country among qualified players) and 22.4% on the defensive glass, good for 86th place. He did have some foul problems, though, as evident by his absence in much of the title game versus Louisville. He was very effective on the floor as shooter, too; he shot just shy of 60% from the floor (no three-point attempts). However, his free throw skills left something to be desired, shooting only 44.2% (23-52).
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Michigan fully expects McGary to be a pivotal player this winter. Of course, that's assuming he's healthy. McGary has dealt with back problems in the past, and they've crept back up again to the point where he's been out indefinitely with what they call a "lower-back condition." It's extremely vague and extremely unhelpful, but all we know is that he didn't play in either of the Wolverines' exhibition games, and isn't likely to play in the season opener on Friday. There has been some speculation as to when he might return, whether it be in the next few weeks, or maybe as far away as Christmas, just in time for B1G play. Regardless of when he may come back, it's vital that Michigan's pre-season All-American (yeah, he's kind of a big deal) gets healthy.
Their other returning sophomore in the frontcourt is big Glenn Robinson III. He's an extremely effective player who just wasn't used enough last year, although he saw the floor a whole lot. He played 83.3% of Michigan's minutes last year, posting an offensive rating of 128.4, tenth-best in the country (!). For reference, Stauskas and Burke were second and third on the team in ORtg last year, respectively (!!). He was a monster shooter, with a team best 65.2% field goal percentage from 2, and a competent 32.4% behind the arc. He didn't turn the ball over much (10% of personal possessions), didn't foul much (1.3 fouls per 40 minutes, 15th best in the nation), and had an effective field-goal percentage that was 33rd-best in the country. And, all of this is a roundabout way of saying that Glenn Robinson was very, very good at what he does.
The sad part here, though, is that he was criminally under-utilized. Considering how much he played, he wasn't a factor that much, only seeing a 15.2% usage rate, which ranked seventh for Michigan last year. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford were used more while they were on the floor. Now, I'm not a coach, because I wouldn't be here if I was. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's going to see the ball a little more this season. Sure, I've seen people call him out for relying too much on his jump-shooting, and he's had the time to work on that, but he's still an extremely effective player while on the court. While I can understand all of the attention on McGary, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Robinson ends up and Michigan's MVP at the end of the season.
The last starter here is a bit of a tossup between the only two upperclassmen on this roster (!!!) in junior Jon Horford and senior Jordan Morgan, and I think it'll end up being Morgan. He doesn't exactly wow you, but he was first off the bench for Beilein often-times last year (36.4% of minutes), and was a decent rebounder (13.4 OR% and 18.8 OR%, second and third-best on the team, respectively). His shooting was rather effective (57.7 eFG%), although he was a liability at the charity stripe (24-43 for a 55.8% rate). He didn't foul as much as big men normally do (3.5/40 minutes), but he did have a trouble with keeping possession as evident by his 20.5% turnover rate. He'll certainly be an emotional leader on this team, and help fill the void created by Trey Burke's departure. Considering the youth this team has, any kind of veteran leadership will go a long way to see that Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton have successful freshman campaigns.
I would like Jon Horford a lot more if he didn't foul all the time, but he does (6.5/40 minutes), so I don't. He shot the same from two as Morgan (57.6%), better from the line (19-27, 70.4%), a slightly better defensive rebounder and slightly worse on the offensive boards (19.6% and 10.6%), turned the ball over slightly less (18.1%), and blocked all of the shots while he was on the court (6.1%). However, he played in less than half the minutes Morgan did (17.8% of Michigan's minutes). He and Morgan are pretty interchangeable in my eyes, although each brings something slightly different to the court.
Max Bielfeldt is probably the last man in the rotation for Michigan right now, owing to his ability to at least be a big human. The redshirt sophomore isn't really great at anything other than rebounding (both over 17% at least), but he's useful for when the other bigs get into foul trouble. It'll be important that Bielfeldt stays productive as his minutes increase, seeing as how he only had 5 per game last year, but there's no reason to expect any kind of significant dropoff. If he's your tenth man, you aren't exactly in bad shape.
Biggest Question: Can Mitch McGary get healthy?
I had talked about this before but it's extremely important that McGary gets healthy before January. He's a vital part of this offense, and his defensive presence cannot be ignored either. Sure, the Wolverines can survive their non-conference schedule without him (save that Duke game at Cameron Indoor), but he'll definitely need to get back before the conference opener at Minnesota. I do fear that he might not come back at the same level of effectiveness he showed last March, but he's definitely the biggest x-factor right now.
I really like this Michigan frontcourt. I like their strength and athleticism, I like their offense and defense, I like their intangibles and tangibles. I could keep going on and on about them, but I feel like you've stopped caring at this point. I expect more out of them than I do Michigan's guards, but that's mostly because they have that much more to provide. There's fewer questions here, but at the same time, the questions that are there are really important. Do I think Mitch McGary will end the season as an All-American? No, I honestly don't. I don't think he plays for a while and that'll hurt him in the eyes of people that vote on these things. I think Glenn Robinson III is going to be the best player from Michigan when this season is over, and I stand by this opinion. Man, I really hope I'm not wrong.