After Michigan’s season ended with an Elite Eight exit, big questions now loom over the future of the team. Will Big Ten Player of they Year Nik Stauskas leave for the NBA? What about Glenn Robinson III? Is Mitch McGary going to forego the risk of another year in college, despite only playing 30 minutes six times in the last two years? Can Caris Levert be a star next season? Derrick Walton Jr.: point guard sensation? All of these questions are important and will be answered eventually. But right now the biggest question that has to be given more attention is what will Michigan’s bigs look like next season?
Obviously, whether or not McGary returns has a huge impact on this question. Based off of a small, but spectacular, sample size in the 2013 NCAA Tournament McGary was able to attract a pre-season All-American nod. But a back injury prevented the exuberant big man from ever being able to meet those high expectations this past season, as he played in just eight games before being shelved thanks to back surgery. So if he comes back, there’s the potential for a huge season from McGary.
But with or without McGary, Michigan still has a huge hole in the front court.
Last season, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford played nearly all of the minutes for Michigan at the five spot, with Max “Big Calves” Bielfeldt soaking up the spare minutes. Morgan was very good, bringing a steady defensive and rebounding presence along with an improved ability to finish at the rim. He’d come a long way in his Michigan career: from raw, but bad, to inconsistent and awkward, to manageable, to finally being a good, dependable big man as a senior. Morgan grew dramatically over his five seasons in Ann Arbor, but that period has now ended.
Another player who showed improvement, though not quite as much as Morgan, was Horford. He lacked athleticism, not living up to his name’s reputation on the court at all. But Horford still gave it his all and had some nice defensive moments this past season. He too has left the program though, choosing to transfer for his fifth and final season of eligibility.
So that leaves McGary (maybe) and Bielfeldt as the only returning big men who have actually played. For a team that will no doubt have ambitious aspirations once again, this is a problem. Last season, without McGary, Michigan may not have had huge talent with Morgan and Horford, but the duo at least brought stability and experience to a young team. Now even those intangibles are gone.
Michigan is going to need unexperienced big men to play a major role in their season next year. Even if McGary stays and is great, he can’t play all 40 minutes every night, especially with his propensity to get into foul trouble and risk of injury due to his reckless playing style. So will Bielfeldt step up? Could Mark Donnal, the 2013 4-star recruit who redshirted last season, be able to make a difference in his first game action? Maybe even Ricky Doyle, a 6’9″ true freshman from Florida, can earn minutes next season.
If McGary returns, at least these questions will only be about the backup spot. But if he decides to enter the draft, Bielfeldt, Donnal and Doyle, three names even most Michigan fans don’t know, will be playing major minutes.
For John Beilein, it has to be a wide open competition for his big men. There is not an absence of talent, that we know of at least, instead a lack of experience that will challenge Michigan’s front court next year. That’s why the position is such a question mark and one that won’t be answered until this team plays some real games next season.
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