Thursday, May 2, 2013

What If Darius Morris Had Stayed?

Photo Credit: Laura Pratt
Over the last week, there has been a lot of coverage regarding the Los Angeles Lakers, their rise to the NBA playoffs, then their subsequent collapse.  One of the key factors in this collapse was the massive amount of injuries the team suffered.  However, these developments were particularly interesting for Michigan fans because they were able to witness Darius Morris (former Michigan point guard) get the starting nod in the playoffs, which was not something many predicted to see this quickly.

Whether Morris did a good job in this position is up for debate (the Lakers got swept in 4 games), but it did get me thinking about the way Morris impacted Michigan.  Many have forgotten about Morris and the earlier Beilein teams due to the massive success in the last two years for Michigan and Trey Burke.  An NCAA title game appearance and a Big Ten Championship are pretty noteworthy and will make a lot of people forget about the past, but Morris was a pretty good player in Ann Arbor.

Morris was instrumental in not only getting Michigan back to the NCAA Tournament after missing it in the previous year, but also in a sweep of in-state rival MSU and a huge 1st round win against Tennessee in the tourney.  This may not sound that significant, but a sweep of MSU was actually pretty significant.  Not only had Michigan lost 4 straight games to the Spartans, but they had also lost 6 of the last 7 games against MSU and 10 out of the last 12 games.  Their last victory over MSU came in February of 2007 andthe 2002-2003 season was the last one that Michigan had a winning record against the Spartans and that was only a one game series, not a two game series.  The last season sweep for Michigan over MSU was in 1997.  Needless to say, these were two big wins.

However, after having an exciting year for Michigan with some big wins, Morris opted to jump to the NBA and was drafted by the Lakers.  Whether this was the right decision can be debated, but what could things have looked like if he had decided to remain in Ann Arbor.  Of course, his NBA draft pedigree would have likely changed, but what would have changed for Michigan?  Trey Burke came on campus the year after Morris left, won himself Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and then followed it with National Player of the Year.  This leads to some major lineup questions if Morris and Burke both would have been on one roster.

The 2011-2012 Season
This would probably have been the most interesting year if Morris would have stayed in Ann Arbor.  Trey Burke is a fantastic player.  You can make a strong argument that he was the best point guard in Michigan basketball history.  This is going to sway a lot of people into believing he would have won the starting role here.  However, this is a revisionist thought and represents something that wasn't know before or during the 2011-2012 season.  Why?  Because he was not the best player in the nation during his freshman campaign.

Burke was good as a freshman and maybe even great, but he certainly wasn't elite.  He should have been 1st team All-Big Ten as a freshman and he was the best player on the Michigan roster, but he still made mistakes and had some rough games down the stretch.  One of the biggest factors were his turnovers and risky outside shots.  He certainly had his moments and in some of the biggest games of the year, but he still had some major flaws in his game as a freshman.

Along with this, Morris had also entrenched himself as Michigan's starting point guard.  It's one thing to show up with little depth and take over the starting role, but another thing to come in and beat out the previous year's starter, especially when they're probably the best player on the team.  Morris was a good player the season before and there isn't much of a reason to believe he wouldn't have improved the next year, at least slightly.  I think Trey Burke is great and became better than Morris, but I'm not convinced that freshman Burke could have moved junior Morris from his starting spot.

However, this still would have given Michigan really good depth off the bench.  Burke would have certainly got some solid minutes and rightfully so.  I can even imagine Beilein bringing Burke off the bench to play alongside Morris at the 2 spot.  How cool would it have been to see a Morris backcourt pass to Burke for a 3 point shot?  Beilein has shown he's willing to think outside the box to utilize guys and this roster would have been a perfect example.

You also have to think that Michigan would have been right in the Big Ten title race, especially considering that Burke would have been the guy pulled off the bench to get the offense going again.  I certainly think the team would have done better near the end of the year as well with less wear and tear due to the massive playing times of guys like Burke and Hardaway.  Morris could have made all the difference and maybe we would have gotten a big tourney run a year earlier.

The 2012-2013 Season
Now, this is the area where it gets really speculative.  One would think that Morris would have jumped pro following the 2011-2012 season if he had not jumped originally after the 2010-2011 season.  This would have put sophomore Burke into the starting role and things would have probably been pretty similar to the roster makeup of the past season.  Maybe Spike is recruited, maybe not, but Beilein would have probably brought in a point guard regardless of Morris staying since many signs would have pointed to him leaving the next year.

If for some reason Morris would have opted to stay for his senior year all bets are off on what the lineup would have looked like for this season.  Morris would have gotten better certainly, but this would be the season where Burke was the national player of the year candidate.  We don't know if he would have still been at this level, but if he was this good, would Morris still be on the court more than Burke?  Sophomore Burke was better than Morris was at anytime during his Michigan career and even if Morris had 2 more seasons to improve, I'm not sure he could gotten to that level.  Burke was much better than he was as a freshman and I think you can
make an argument about freshman Burke against junior Morris, which implies how good of a player Burke was for Michigan.

Regardless, if Morris was on last year's roster, the team would have been insanely loaded and both guys would have got some solid minutes.  I can honestly imagine a Morris, Burke, Hardaway, GR3, and Morgan/McGary lineup for the last season.  Stauskas and LeVert would have come off the bench and Spike would have certainly been redshirted.  That is a really good lineup.  It's certainly not crazy to think Michigan could have beaten Louisville with Morris on the roster.

Morris obviously didn't stay, but it's still a fun topic to debate and breakdown.  How much of a difference would Morris have made by staying?  In my opinion, the main difference would have been during Burke's freshman year when he was still improving his game.  This would have allowed players to rest and probably would have made Michigan better at the end of the year when they had a discouraging collapse against Ohio State then Ohio in the NCAA Tournament.  Either way, both players should be in the NBA next year and maybe we'll get a chance to see them compete there.

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