Notebook: Morgan becomes third big-man option, Hardaway finally gets hot

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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 25, 2013

Contrary to popular belief, Jordan Morgan is still on the Michigan men’s basketball team.

The redshirt junior forward seemed to have disappeared in Michigan’s second- and third-round NCAA Tournament victories. The starting center for all but four games during the regular season, Morgan had been the Wolverines’ scrappy, all-around player who collected rebounds when needed and played solid defense.

But then the postseason happened. In the Big Ten Tournament, Morgan got into foul trouble and couldn’t control the ball in the paint, so freshman forward Mitch McGary got a majority of the post minutes and performed exceptionally well.

McGary played so well that he took Morgan’s starting position. Before Thursday’s game against South Dakota State, Michigan coach John Beilein started McGary at the “5” instead of Morgan, and McGary impressed and started again against Virginia Commonwealth. The freshman tallied career-highs in points, rebounds and minutes against the Rams and played a majority of both NCAA Tournament games last weekend.

During the Big Ten Tournament, Beilein said the coaching staff reevaluates the starting lineup after each game to prepare for the next team’s post matchup. But the coaching staff didn’t just switch starters — they jumbled the entire frontcourt rotation.

When McGary took a breather and rested on the bench against South Dakota State, redshirt sophomore Jon Horford was the second big off the bench instead of Morgan. Morgan played just one minute in the 15-point win while McGary and Horford shared minutes.

And against VCU, Morgan didn’t see the court at all. Even when the Wolverines were up by 31 points late in the second half, Morgan didn’t play, and during garbage time at the end of the game, Beilein rightfully played the seniors over other bench players, including Morgan.

The recent developments come as a surprise. When Morgan was injured in late January, McGary was expected to assume the starting role, but Horford got the majority of the starts instead. When Morgan returned, the rotation returned to normal, with McGary, and then Horford coming off the bench.

When asked whether or not McGary has secured a starting spot over Morgan, Beilein still wouldn’t give a straight answer.

“With the CBS games and the extra timeouts, we can give (McGary) more time,” Beilein said. “We’ve watched his growth, he’s at his lowest weight all year long, this is his lowest body weight he’s had, so we can play him longer.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise if McGary gets the nod over Morgan again on Friday. After his dominance in the Wolverines’ first two games of the NCAA Tournament, McGary is easily the better option at center against Kansas’ Jeffy Withey.

HIDDEN HARDAWAY?: Though the performance of freshman forward Glenn Robinson III has gotten much of the headlines, the contribution of Tim Hardaway Jr. hasn’t been overlooked.

The junior’s hot 3-point shooting helped fend off a South Dakota State run in the first half on Thursday, and his game-high 21 points helped carry the Wolverines into the third round. On Friday, Hardaway stayed hot, shooting 45 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc.

Though he has had a streaky career at Michigan, Hardaway always seems to step up on big stages — he has performed well in the three games the Wolverines played in New York this season, and was named NIT Tip-Off MVP for his 39 points in two games in the tournament. And Hardaway stepped up in the NCAA Tournament, as well.

“Tim Hardaway has not only been important in this game, but has been important all three years,” Beilein said after Michigan’s win over VCU on Friday. “When he has had opportunities like he’s had in the past couple days to pass, to bring the ball up against the pressure — that wouldn’t have happened last year — to make the right, smart plays to defend. I just watch this young man’s game, and it grows every day. Mothers may not see it that way, I see it as growing. I think his ceiling is very high.”

A (DIFFERENT) FINAL FOUR: After months of speculation, there are finally four.

Sophomore point guard Trey Burke was named as one of four finalists for the Naismith Men’s Collegiate Player of the Year award on Sunday. The winner will be announced April 7.

He is joined by Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Georgetown’s Otto Porter.

Burke was recently named Sports Illustrated National Player of the Year and has been included on the All-American First Team by SI, Sporting News and USBWA. The sophomore is also in the running for other national awards, including the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Award, John R. Wooden National Player of the Year Award, Bob Cousy Award for Nation's Top Point Guard and John R. Wooden All-America Team.