Mitch McGary Has Finally Found His Role in the Michigan OffensePosted by Deepak Jayanti on February 12th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
Two weeks ago when the pollsters voted the Michigan Wolverines as the top-ranked team in college hoops, there were several references made to the “Fab Five” because some 20 years ago that talented group of Wolverines represented the last time the school had achieved the top spot. In that era of the early 1990s, freshmen were not typically expected to contribute immediately but instead were supposed to gradually develop their understanding of the college game. But over the intervening years as the NBA has gutted talent from the pool of upperclassmen, programs have learned to rely more on freshmen, and in some cases, demand that 18-year-olds assume a leadership role from day one. Due to these lofty expectations, we may tend to sometimes overlook freshmen who start out slowly but gradually show improvement over the course of the season. One of the best reasons to follow college basketball is to see the progression of young men who may struggle to adjust to the game during some stretches but will work their way out of that slump and eventually contribute to their teams. It has been a joy, for example, to watch Michigan freshman forward Mitch McGary add value and figure out how to play his game at the collegiate level over the past few weeks.
McGary received some well-deserved hype during the preseason because he along with Glenn Robinson III spearheaded a top 15 recruiting class heading to Ann Arbor. He was rated as one of the best forwards in the country and was a consensus top 30 recruit among the recruitiniks. Combine his bulky 6’10″ frame to the need for an inside presence for John Beilein and expectations were set fairly high for him before the season began. But the forward struggled to find his place in a guard-oriented Beilein offense, and he was quickly overshadowed by his fellow freshmen – Nik Stauskas and Robinson – over the first two months. While that pair benefited from open looks because the defense focused on Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., McGary had to adjust to defending the paint without getting into foul trouble. Even though it took him a while to get a feel for the pace of the game, he has been very effective since the middle of January and will continue to be an integral part of the Wolverines’ success down the stretch.
Since Jordan Morgan went down with an ankle sprain against Illinois, McGary has averaged 9.6 PPG and 8.0 RPG and has been very active on both ends of the floor. Burke and Hardaway have been forced to become outside shooters against good defensive teams such as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. Opposing teams have therefore challenged the Wolverines to improve their scoring in the paint and McGary has answered the call off the pick-and-roll. This play has worked effectively because when the defenders don’t switch, Burke can nail a jumper going to his right or pass it to McGary for an easy layup going to his left. The freshman’s left hand is very helpful to combine with Stauskas and Burke who are deadly from the right side on the perimeter. Having a big guy who is comfortable putting the ball on the floor to take it to the basket is a huge boost for Beilein’s offense and will eventually lead to open shooters in the corners because the opposition will have to respect McGary as an offensive option. These quick-hitters on offense have boosted his confidence to a point where he is comfortable taking jumpers 15 feet away from the basket. Against Wisconsin he swished a couple of those shots with no hesitancy – one from the baseline and one from the high post as he trailed Burke on a fast break. There is no need for him to score 14 PPG this season, but helping out on screens and scoring around 8.0 PPG with easy layups will force opposing defenders to cheat away from Stauskas and Robinson on the perimeter.
While he is now more comfortable in the offense, he still struggles on the defensive end but who wouldn’t have a tough time hanging with talented big men such as Cody Zeller or Trevor Mbakwe? Tonight’s match-up against Michigan State will be another challenge as he will try hold his ground against Derrick Nix and may have to guard Adreian Payne all over the floor. But regardless of the individual result, McGary has shown that he is up for the challenge with Morgan still dealing with a nagging ankle injury. There will be times when he will pick up a couple of quick fouls but it will be interesting to see how he will adjust his game after that stretch. We shouldn’t judge his game based on his final statistics or if he will make the all-freshman team along with Shabazz Muhammad or Nerlens Noel. Instead, we should enjoy his growth as he continues to do whatever it takes for his team to win and improves himself as a well-rounded basketball player.