Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Previewing The Roster: Bigs

Photo Credit: Todd White
Earlier, I did a preview of Michigan's wings and who I thought would contribute the most for the 2012-2013 Michigan basketball season.  This time, I will be taking a look at Michigan's bigs and how the position group is looking for the season.  In the past few years, this has been a pretty weak area for Michigan.  When Zack Novak is playing the 4 spot and players like Evan Smotrycz play with such inconsistency, it will definitely not be the strength of the team.  However, this year, things are looking different.

Not only is Michigan returning every true big man on the roster except one (Smotrycz), but they are bringing in one of the most heralded recruits in the country at the position; Mitch McGary.  It's rare that a freshman recruit can come in at completely redefine a team's play in the paint, but not only have there been several recent examples (Cody Zeller, Anthony Davis) of big men coming in and changing a team's dynamic in one offseason, but Michigan is also bringing back three very experienced big men and a redshirt freshman with a ton of potential.

Do I think that Mitch McGary can make as big of a difference as players like Zeller and Davis?  Probably not.  Both of those players entered very different situations and were probably more ready for the college game than McGary.  However, I think McGary's situation may be more advantageous in certain ways than Zeller or Davis' situations.  First, Michigan probably has just as much or more surrounding talent than either of those teams.  Of course, Kentucky won the national championship last year, but a very large chunk of that was due to Davis.  His surrounding players were very good, but did they have more depth at guard and wing than Michigan this year?  I'm not convinced, especially given how much Davis influenced his team's play.

Along with this, Michigan has a lot of depth at McGary's position that players like Zeller and Davis didn't have last season.  Once again, both of these players did very well, but the point I'm trying to make is that McGary isn't going to have to do everything for the team on his own.  A lot of people are trying to point to McGary as the player that's going to make Michigan into an elite team, but what needs to be pointed out is that he should have plenty of time to develop with a lot of surrounding talent.  He has the surrounding players and the depth at his position that puts him in a great spot for this year.

Of course, this is a post about all the bigs not just McGary, so let's look at some of that surrounding depth.  First, let's look at the other big man that I have projected to be starting alongside McGary; Jordan Morgan.  This should be the third year that Morgan has a starting spot on Michigan's lineup and things are looking well for him to make a significant impact again.  He should also have McGary alongside him to help on both on offense and defense.  I think Morgan's stats may drop a tad from his 7.4 points and 5.62 rebs per game, but I think his actual impact on the game should be close to what it was last year.  A solid and reliable contributor, but not somebody who's going to put up insane numbers on the stats sheet, which is probably exactly what Michigan needs at the position.

On the bench, Michigan should also have three capable players that should be able to fill any necessary minutes effectively.  First, there's Jon Horford, who should be the first player off the bench.  He started the first game last year, but was quickly passed by Morgan.  He still performed well, but suffered a season-ending injury later in the year.  He should be in fine shape for this season and will look to be the team's most productive player off the bench if all goes right.

The remaining two players are Max Bielfeldt and Blake McLimans.  Both will likely be forced to split only a few minutes because of the time taken up by McGary, Morgan, and Horford, but their impact could be important, especially if some of the players get in significant foul trouble.  They also will probably be used a lot to get the other players rest during some of the blowout games, which will be important as the season goes on.  We recently debated whether Bielfeldt or McLimans would come off the bench first.  I believe it will be Bielfeldt, but we will have to wait and see since he hasn't played any college minutes yet.

Overall, this should be a very strong position for Michigan, which will be quite different from the team's recent history.  Will there be some confusion and growing pains in the early season?  Most likely.  There's still debate about whether McGary will be a starter in the first couple games and a lot will depend on how he develops.  If he's ready to be a starter, Michigan will be able to have two big men on the floor, but if he's not ready, the Wolverines will be forced to play a smaller lineup like they did for most of last season.

I have high hopes for Michigan's big men and it will be interesting to see who takes which role, but there is no doubt that this should be an upgraded position from the recent past.  I still believe McGary and Morgan will be in the starting lineup, but that is definitely not a guarantee.  If Michigan's big men can play anywhere near expectations, it should be a big season for the Wolverines.

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