Just the other day, Jon Horford announced he is transferring from Michigan to play his last season of college basketball at a different university. It was kind of a surprise as nobody really saw this coming, but honestly it makes sense for him. Horford wants more of an opportunity to play in his final year of college basketball. Being behind Mitch McGary next season is not a fun place to be for a senior.
To the average fan, this kind of news doesn't mean much, but in reality it likely means a great deal. With the NBA Draft coming soon, Michigan has been worried about possible early departures from Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and even Andrew Dakich (the #1 hype man headed into the 2014 draft).
Ok, so Dakich isn't going to be headed to the NBA any time soon, but those other three players are legitimate threats to leave Michigan for the pros. The Wolverines could be in trouble if this happens. A guy like Jon Horford provides not only a big man with a great deal of experience, but a solid fall back option in case McGary comes back and endures more injury issues.
Besides Mitch McGary, the next tallest players on the Wolverines are Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle who come in at 6'9. Donnal was redshirted this past season as a freshman and Doyle is currently the #22 senior center and a three-star player according to ESPN.
Michigan has been successful the last few seasons under Coach Beilein without true size down low, but if they are limited to two freshman and McGary then they could really miss a guy like Jon Horford. After looking at his numbers from last season you might think I'm crazy, but there is value to be had in a guy like him. Sure, he only averaged four points, four rebounds, and one block a game last season, but he was also great at giving high fives and pumping up the crowd.
Seriously though, Horford could have been the kind of player that helped the younger big men with pick and roll assignments both offensively and defensively, and other schemes that are critical to John Beilein's systems. Something like the 1-3-1 zone might not be playable with either of the freshman on the court next season.
It is also worth noting that Jordan Morgan was not a star player before this past season, but grew to become a solid defender and average 13 points per game during the NCAA Tournament. It is unlikely Horford starts to play like his brother Al Horford next season, but it isn't that crazy to think he could be a solid contributor.
It is likely that under Beilein's tutelage these young players do well enough to make fans forget about Jon Horford, but it is not a guarantee. Nobody expected Mitch McGary to be out pretty much the entire 2013-2014 season, but it happened. If that were to happen again then the Wolverines would be in big trouble.
For now, Michigan will rely on Coach Beilein's great coaching skills to coach up these younger players into solid players in their first seasons. They can't afford a major step back at these positions considering they could lose Stauskas and GR3 to the NBA Draft. In an system that is led by strong guard play, it is odd to think the play of Michigan's big men could determine how well they do next season.