20 Questions: Does Michigan’s Mitch McGary Deserve to be a Preseason All-American?Posted by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn) on November 6th, 2013
There is nothing objectively wrong with the five names selected for the Associated Press Preseason All-American team. You can argue the merits of every selection, I suppose, but that’s probably not the best use of anyone’s time. The poll is an inherently subjective entity. A group of writers see teams and players they believe deserve special recognition and vote accordingly. Preference – not a secret formula or wins and loss records or point averages – explains selections. And in the preseason, speculation about which players and teams will perform well is the single biggest factor involved in poll selection. So when lists like these are revealed, disagreeing with a player or team here and there is totally reasonable. That’s why so many media outlets publish “power rankings.” But saying one team’s placement on a poll is flat-out wrong doesn’t really make much sense. Selections can be questionable – baffling, even. But can they be wrong? Like, 2 + 2=5 wrong? No. No, they can’t.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Michigan forward Mitch McGary, the most controversial selection on the AP’s team released Monday, which also includes Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart, Creighton senior Doug McDermott and Louisville senior Russ Smith. (And no, Wiggins’ spot on the preseason team is not more controversial than McGary’s. If this guy made it without playing a single minute of college basketball beforehand, then Wiggins – perhaps the most highly touted player to ever enter the modern college game, one all but guaranteed to be a top-three pick in the 2014 NBA Draft – deserves a spot. End of discussion. Welcome to the recruiting news-infused college hoops news cycle of 2013).
There are plenty of folks that think McGary, who received the lowest number of votes (34) of the five players chosen, doesn’t belong on the team. They see McGary as a flash in the pan, someone who got hot in March but doesn’t have the regular season numbers to back up the media love he’s getting. Someone America saw on the big stage and, with scant evidence to dispute the legitimacy of the 14.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG numbers he averaged in six NCAA Tournament games (thanks in large part to the casual sports fan’s general apathy toward every college hoops game before March), fell in love with. McGary can’t hold a candle to Wiggins, McDermott, Smith and Smart, the argument goes, because McGary barely existed before the NCAA Tournament started, and because there are so many other players more qualified than him.
Really? Who? Go ahead, scan the rosters of every Division I team across the country. I’ll wait… done? Cool. In a year where college hoops is purportedly “loaded” with talent, finding a replacement for the most controversial selection on the team shouldn’t be this hard. In my mind, there are two players who warrant consideration. The first is Syracuse forward C.J. Fair. In 40 games for the Orange last season (and 86.6 percent of available minutes, according to KenPom, one of the highest such percentages in the country), Fair averaged 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, shot virtually the same percentage inside the arc (47.0%) as he did outside it (46.9%) and posted a 110.8 offensive rating. And just in case you happened to miss the NCAA Tournament last season (which, well, sorry), or you’re new to the sport, you missed watching Fair, with help from a stifling 2-3 zone defense, lead the Orange to an upset over one-seed Indiana and subsequently the Final Four. Fair was also picked as the Preseason Player of the Year in a conference (ACC) widely expected to be the best in the country. And Fair, unlike McGary, was great from November to March. Fair’s body of work is as vast as it is impressive; McGary’s is only the latter.
The second player – and he’s listed second because he is, in my opinion, less deserving than the first alternative mentioned – is Kentucky freshman Julius Randle. The most esteemed recruit in the best recruiting class of all-time is the reputation Randle brings to Lexington this season, and if the recruitniks and NBA front office types doing back-flips over the 6’9″ freshman’s game have it even half right, Randle is in line for a monster season. But picking Randle, like picking Wiggins, feels more like a recognition of potential than proven ability. The difference with Wiggins – or, at least, this is how I rationalized voters picking Wiggins but spurning Randle – is that Wiggins: 1) is, according to every reputable recruiting ranking available, the best player in the 2013 class; and 2) expected to have a better opportunity to score more points than Randle on a nightly basis. A more gaudy scoring average might not make Wiggins a better player, per se, but it gives poll voters something quantifiable to latch onto at the end of the season, something tidy and easy to cite that validates their prescience – however dubious in reality. There’s also, I suspect, something to be said about poll voters possibly refraining from selecting two freshmen simply because it’s never happened before, because it would feel sort of weird, because how dare we let these young kids get all this publicity!
Other potential replacements for McGary include Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, Michigan State senior Adreian Payne and Louisville sophomore Montrezl Harrell. Without looking at statistics or thinking about it too hard, do any of those names strike you in particular? Make you want to strangle the 34 AP Voters who voted for McGary? I don’t really have a strong feeling one way or another. In all honesty, I’d probably pick Fair, with Randle a close second. But my opinion, like the AP voters’, doesn’t matter for anything tangibly important. Making the preseason All-America team is great and all, but at the end of the season, if you’re one of the best players in the country and you earn a spot on the postseason All-America team, few people will remember you were ever left off the preseason team in the first place. In fact, the omission will probably be spun as a positive – the dude who came into the season “under the radar.” Everyone knows that guy. I digress.
Maybe McGary doesn’t belong on the preseason All-America team. Maybe he does. In the end, how Michigan’s big man plays in the upcoming season – whether he can take his massive March performance and sustain it over the course of an entire 30-plus game schedule – will determine whether his selection was warranted.