By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 24, 2013
During last season’s NCAA Tournament, Michigan then-freshman forward Mitch McGary was the talk of the nation as he averaged a double-double of 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds during the men’s basketball team’s run to the national championship game.
On Thursday, though, at Michigan men’s basketball media day, he was at the center of attention not for his on-court performance, but for his current battle to get back on the court.
Since late September, McGary has been sidelined day-to-day with a lower back injury, and while Michigan coach John Beilein didn’t sound worried in the long-term sense about McGary, it remains unclear when he will get back on the court.
“He’s making great progress,” Beilein said. “We’re (being) super cautious. He’s been doing these underwater treadmill workouts that are really productive. … It’s still day-to-day. One of these days, he’s going to have to get out there and see what he can do. But we’re very cautious.”
When asked by reporters about a possible target date for McGary’s return to practice, both Beilein and McGary lacked an answer.
“There’s no target date or anything right now,” McGary said. “Like I said, I’m day-to-day right now. (But I’m) feeling really good about my body and whatnot.”
Besides McGary, no other Wolverines are currently injured. However, Beilein did say a similarly cautious approach was taken with freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr., who injured his foot in recent weeks.
“Derrick is 100 percent, or at least he has been in practice,” Beilein said. “He missed about four or five days just when we made sure his foot was fine.”
STRETCHING THE FLOOR: As recently as two years ago, Michigan was using a four-guard lineup for the majority of its games. Packaged with fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan, the Wolverine lineup was incredibly small.
That won’t be the issue this year.
Currently, Michigan houses 10 players that stand at least 6-foot-6. With such height, Beilein envisions a plethora of possible lineups.
At the moment, Beilein admits the team is not as versatile as it can be, but after McGary recovers from his lower back issue, he will be spoiled for choices.
“With Mitch not being in there right now, we’re not as versatile as we would like to be,” Beilein said. “We want to have people playing a lot of different positions. … When Mitch is healthy, we’re fairly versatile where we can play a bunch of multi-position players and just let it roll.”
With sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert each standing at 6-foot-6, the range of their play could come in a variety of ways.
With one weighing over 200 pounds – Stauskas, and one under – LeVert, Beilein sees the duo playing a “lot of positions.”
“I think Nik and Caris can both really play a big guard,” Beilein said. “Both are two-position players. Caris can probably play guard and Nik can play what he played (last season) and play the off-guard.”
Speaking further on the concept of LeVert playing point guard, Beilein went as far as to say that Michigan “could go out there with a 6-6, 6-6, 6-6, 6-6 and a big guy” with the four 6-foot-6 players being LeVert, Stauskas, sophomore forward Glen Robinson III and freshman Zak Irvin.
INTANGIBLES: When asked in his press conference what was the biggest challenge that Michigan will face this year, Beilein was quick to answer.
“I think the biggest (challenge) is replacing the intangibles we had off those five seniors that left this team and won a lot of games in their time,” Beilein said. “There were things going on in the locker room, in the practice and in the weight room (and) meals that you (can) hardly replace.”
Senior leadership won’t be the only thing that the Wolverines will have to replace this season. Another thing will be the production of former Wolverines Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. With his two biggest scoring threats and late-game options no longer present, Beilein is already questioning who exactly will fill their spaces, especially with the game on the line.
“At the end of shot clocks, at the end of games, if we were drawing up things, it was going to them,” Beilein said. “Who are you drawing up things for the end of the game? Those are the things we’re working through right now.”