Many of the Michigan faithful thought the worst when super sophomore Mitch McGary was sidelined with a back injury over a month ago.
The Wolverines were runners up in last season’s NCAA tournament. McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas were returning and a highly-ranked recruiting class was being added to the mix. The Maize and Blue had dreams of a return trip to the Final Four and a national championship.
McGary’s injury seemed to crush those hopes, but Michigan’s record is unblemished at 10-0 without the big man. The Wolverines beat three top-ten teams in a week, topping Wisconsin (ranked No. 3 at the time), Iowa (No. 10 at the time) and Michigan State (No. 3) between Jan. 18 and 25. Michigan is in first place at 8-0 in the Big Ten.
That success is due, in large part, to stopgaps eating McGary’s available minutes: Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan.
When McGary went down he was averaging 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. His biggest statistical output came against Duke on Dec. 3,when he scored 15 and pulled down 14 rebounds.
Morgan and Horford have picked up the slack, combining to average 14.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the 10 wins without McGary. Each have come up big in big games, too. Horford had 14 points and nine boards in a 63-60 win at Minnesota. Morgan had 15 points in a 71-70 win at Nebraska and 12 points and seven rebounds in a 75-67 win against Iowa.
Perhaps even more of a factor in the Michigan winning streak, though, is the rise of Stauskas. The 6-foot-6 Canadian has become a regular on the highlight shows each night and one of the leading candidates for Big Ten player of the year.
Stauskas has scored 18.4 points and dished out 3.8 assists per game while turning the ball over only 1.6 times per contest. He was doing it before McGary’s injury, too. But having a potential All-American like Stauskas on the squad makes it a lot easier to lose one like McGary.
Michigan will be tested in February, especially during a four-game stretch between Feb. 8 and 23 when it plays at Iowa, at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. But those games would have looked much more daunting without McGary a month ago than they do right now.