- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 22, 2013
Redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan had his hands full with Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe in last Thursday’s matchup between the two top-10 teams.
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Morgan was stuffed by Mbakwe on consecutive possessions, so Michigan coach John Beilein immediately looked to the bench for someone who could keep pace with the Golden Gophers’ aggressive post presence.
Freshman forward Mitch McGary subbed in for Morgan and immediately made an impact. He matched up evenly with Mbakwe’s size and played more aggressively on defense than the Wolverines’ more experienced big man. In Michigan’s 83-75 win, the freshman put up another solid all-around game with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, two rebounds — both offensive — a blocked shot and three steals while splitting minutes with Morgan.
Beilein praised McGary for his ability to keep pace with Mbakwe and the freshman’s knack for diving for loose balls, all while maintaining a high energy level against Minnesota.
“You have to be physical, you have to be able to get in those trenches and get the rebounds,” Beilein said. “As long as that motor is running inside.”
Though McGary is sometimes known for his energy that he brings to the floor — often times he’ll be the first one off the bench to cheer for a big basket to pump up the crowd, and he’ll sprint down the floor to get back on defense — the Chesterton, Ind. native is growing into a larger role offensively than just energizing the team.
Early in the second half of the Minnesota game, McGary shed a screen and was open on the elbow for a jump shot that he sank. Until recently, the freshman’s range was limited to layups and the occasional dunk.
“I’ve been working a lot with coach Beilein on my 15-foot, mid-range game,” he said. “He’s beginning to trust me more to let me be able to knock down some shots.”
At the beginning of the season, Beilein was concerned about McGary’s tendency to get in foul trouble and was working on getting his strength up to par so he could relieve Morgan.
As a recruit, one of the concerns about McGary was his weight, and coming into this season, Beilein wanted McGary to lose weight and increase muscle as the season progressed — it was one of the reasons why McGary saw limited production early in the season.
The freshman has gotten stronger, and even though he still accumulates his share of fouls, McGary has seen an increase in minutes. He’s kept his consistent role as sixth man, usually entering the game within the first five minutes, and has shouldered a majority of the rebounding duties. McGary is second on the team with 5.7 boards per game, while Morgan pulls in 5.4 per game.
McGary, who checks in at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, is more of the typical big man that Beilein’s system has lacked in recent years. The freshman is two inches taller than Morgan and has become the offensive complement to Morgan’s strength on defense.
Though both big men are shooting around 60 percent from the floor and average around six or seven points per game, Morgan has remained the starting big man and McGary his backup. But with the freshman’s success against some of the Big Ten’s best forwards, there’s a possibility that, later in the conference slate, Beilein would favor McGary over Morgan in matchups against Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Michigan State’s Derrick Nix because of his quickness and ability to run the floor.
But Beilein is adamant that McGary hasn’t reached his full potential — the coach has been working with the freshman on his rebounding and shot selection and is impressed with his range and increasing role on defense.
“(His jump shot is) something he’s got to recognize that he really needs to work on overall,” Beilein said. “He’s been working on it, he’s got to continue to work on it, but to have a big man who can catch a quick pick-and-roll and be able to hit it from 15 (feet) is really important for every team.
“Him and (I) and coach (Bacari) Alexander spend every workable hour in the gym. I think he’s playing bigger around the basket, too.”