CHICAGO — After freshman forward Mitch McGary’s 10-point, 11-rebound performance in Thursday’s game against Penn State, Michigan coach John Beilein was faced with the same question he’s had to answer numerous times throughout the season: McGary or redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan?
Morgan has had his share of struggles just like the rest of the Wolverine big men, but the redshirt junior got in foul trouble early against the Nittany Lions. He played just 10 minutes on Thursday, and with McGary’s dominance in the paint, Beilein had to grapple with the decision on whether to swap McGary for Morgan in the starting lineup.
“We talk about the roster and rotation every day,” Beilein said after Thursday’s game. “We’ll probably do that again. But a change, I’m not going to say we’re going to do it or not going to do it. If we do make a change, maybe Jordan will play more relaxed coming off the bench and make some of those shots he missed.
“I’ll watch some film and talk and see what — again, look at our matchups for the next game and decide what we’re going to do.”
But against Wisconsin’s dominant center Jared Berggren, Beilein went with Morgan, and again, the redshirt junior underwhelmed his coach and McGary saw the majority of the big man minutes.
Michigan was looking to the post to get going early, but Morgan struggled. He fumbled a couple of passes in the paint and was pulled within the first three minutes of the game in favor of McGary. Morgan didn’t score against the Badgers and turned the ball over three times while pulling down four rebounds.
Morgan’s play on Friday reflected how the Wolverine forwards fared against the Badgers. Neither Morgan, McGary nor redshirt sophomore Jon Horford were able to get in a rhythm offensively on Friday, and all three struggled defensively.
Though Berggren scored a modest eight points, all of his points came from layups or dunks — shots that opened up from a lapse in defense from Michigan’s big men.
The Wolverine forwards had to play helpside defense when Ryan Evans posted up on freshman forward Glenn Robinson III, which left Berggren open.After a simple move to get around the Michigan forward recovering from helpside, Berggren had an easy two points.
“Today on defense, we had a lot of helpside responsibilities with Evans posting up,” McGary said on Friday. “We had to be the hot man. It was a lot different from (Thursday) because usually Penn State’s Sasa (Boronvjak) was posting us up. Berggren did a good job spinning on us (and had) easy put-backs.”
Added Morgan: “I think they took advantage of posting up some guys (that) they had a size advantage on, and that kind of put us in a rotation that we might not wanted to have. That got them some open shots.”
So without a post presence, sophomore guard Trey Burke and junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. took control of the offense as they have so many times before — on Friday, Burke and Hardaway were the only Wolverines to score in double digits.
Hardaway also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds while Morgan, McGary and Horford combined for 16 boards.
Though Wisconsin didn’t dominate in the paint, the Badgers got physical with Michigan’s big men and were able to outmuscle and outsmart the Wolverine forwards. This has been an issue for Michigan against more physical teams in the Big Ten, like Indiana and Michigan State, and as the NCAA Tournament approaches, the Wolverines must figure out how to potentially match up with teams with strong post presences.
Morgan, however, doesn’t think that will be an issue.
“I don’t think that’s true. I think we’ve won some games where we’ve had to get physical — it’s a very physical conference,” Morgan said. “I think we’ve done a good job in the past few weeks of getting physical, trying to get into the paint, trying to go after offensive and defensive rebounds. I think we’ve improved in that area. I think we’ll be okay.”