Conference play hasn’t even started, yet the Michigan Wolverines are already in danger of seeing their season go up in flames.
There was plenty of optimism in Ann Arbor despite the team’s 6-4 start, as three of those four losses came against teams currently ranked No. 1, No. 9 and No. 14 in the nation. The fourth loss came at the hands of the Charlotte 49ers, who are no slouches — they’ve also beaten Kansas State — so there wasn’t much cause for concern.
If anything, there was cause for optimism heading into the Big Ten Conference season. Michigan’s final exams schedule meant that the Wolverines played only four games in the past four weeks, so theoretically the players had ample time to get healthy before the Big Ten’s annual battle royale began. All of the good vibes went out the window today when Mitch McGary announced that he will undergo season-ending back surgery.
McGary started having problems with his lower back in August, and while he missed a lot of practices and the first two games of the season, most people expected him to be on the court when Michigan tipped off against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis next week. After all, until he missed last week’s win over the Stanford Cardinal, he had managed to contribute, on average, 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 25 minutes per game this season.
Today’s announcement came as some of a surprise to fans that don’t usually follow Michigan basketball because McGary’s statistics suggested to the casual eye that he was going to be fine once the conference season started. Unfortunately, while he put a lot of effort into rehabbing his injury, things never progressed enough for him to feel that he could make it through the season in one piece.
Now that its Ferrari has broken down for good, Michigan will be forced to take the Ford Taurus to work for the rest of the winter. Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan may not enjoy being referred to as a mid-size economy sedan, but the similarities are too strong to ignore. Both players were at their best in high school, and in college they have been mostly reliable but have always left something to be desired on the offensive end.
Horford has never been much of a threat in Ann Arbor — coming into this year he averaged 2.5 points per game over his career — he has battled injuries just like McGary, which have limited his development. Morgan, on the other hand, played 24 minutes per game and averaged 9.2 points per game as a freshman. Since then, however, his minutes and points per game have decreased every season; this year Morgan is averaging 3.1 points and 10.7 minutes per game. Basically, you can get to the NCAA Tournament with Horford and Morgan, but if you try to take them on a cross-country trip to the Final Four, you’re asking for problems.
The Mitch McGary era of Michigan basketball seems like it’s over, and the Wolverines will not participate in March Madness if Horford and Morgan keep up their current pace of about 24 minutes and seven points per game.
You have to give credit to Horford and Morgan, who have stuck around and persevered through injuries, periods of ineffective play and extended stints on the bench in favor of more highly-touted recruits. They have been consummate team players throughout their careers, but the duo won’t be invited to any pity parties during Big Ten play. Let’s see how they respond to their opportunity.