Michigan Basketball: How Mitch McGary's Absence Is Affecting Wolverines

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Michigan Basketball: How Mitch McGary's Absence Is Affecting Wolverines
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Can the absence of a star player be a blessing in disguise?

Michigan head coach John Beilein and his Wolverine basketball team are trying to figure out whether or not good can come from Mitch McGary's early-season setback related to his nagging lower-back condition.

The 6'10" power forward has yet to play a game and is listed as day-to-day in terms of his own workouts with the team.

Missing a vital member to your starting lineup is never a good thing. However, McGary's absence has not kept Michigan from taking care of business with its first opponents.

His absence also is providing Beilein and the Wolverines with a unique opportunity to work on a number of important aspects that could drive another deep March Madness run.

The Bigs are Getting Major Minutes

Last year as a freshman, Mitch McGary only started two regular-season games.

But once he was inserted into the starting lineup in the 2013 NCAA tournament, he dominated playing time in the post, logging over 30 minutes per game in Michigan's six March Madness games.

With McGary on the sidelines, Michigan's only two upperclassmen, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, are getting a lot of playing time, effectively holding down the Wolverines' interior work.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Jon Horford adds length and athleticism to the frontline

Horford has started the first two games and has looked impressive, averaging 7.0 points and 13.5 rebounds.

Morgan, a 2013 Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection, continues to be a stopper in the paint.

It remains to be seen whether or not Beilein will use one of the two of these enforcers alongside McGary when he returns. But, the more action they see now, the more they will be able to contribute once McGary returns.

LeVert is Breaking Out

If Mitch McGary started off the season in the starting lineup, there is a good chance that Caris LeVert would be coming off the bench, just like he did last year as a freshman.

Without McGary suiting up, Glenn Robinson III is still playing the power forward position, instead of sliding over to play small forward as planned.

LeVert is taking full advantage of the current opportunity as a starter. The 6'6" wing is averaging 20.5 points (team leader), 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

Against South Carolina State, he hit 6-of-7 shots from beyond the arc.

ESPN's Jeff Goodman recently listed LeVert as one of the "Top 25 Break Out Players of 2013-14" (Insider subscription required), saying that he "brings length and defense to the table."

If this surging sophomore continues to bring the action as he has so far, can you really see Beilein sitting him down when McGary returns?

Me neither.

Stauskas and GR3 are Stepping Up

It was pretty much a given that Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III were going to be featured players on this year's Wolverines team.

So far, they are both living up to that expectation. Each has elevated his performance across the board in McGary's absence.

Stauskas continues to be a deadly marksman from beyond the arc, hitting 6-of-9 shots from three-point range in the first two games.

An area that the 6'6" wing from Canada has added to his game is playmaking. He is showing a better awareness of the assist opportunities that are available. Against South Carolina State, Stauskas dished out a career-high five assists.

Robinson is scoring more, boarding better and handing out more assists.

However, Robinson's game has improved in two additional areas. He is much more aggressive in taking the ball to the basket and more opportunistic on the defensive end.

One of the benefits of GR3's aggressiveness is he is going to the line more often. Last year, he averaged 2.7 free throw attempts per game. So far, he is heading to the charity stripe 7.5 times per game.

On the defensive end, he is showing signs of being a fierce defender. He is averaging three steals per game, as compared to his 1.0 SPG average as a freshman.

We will have to wait and see if these two transition to new positions upon McGary's return or if they bring their improved skill sets to their current positions.

Either way, look for Stauskas and Robinson to be one of the most prolific perimeter pairs in the nation.

Looking Ahead

Hardship and difficulty create opportunities that comfort and ease can never deliver.

The Wolverines will be a better team in February and March because of what they are accomplishing now without McGary in the November starting lineup.

When he returns, Michigan will be steeled to take on anyone on its schedule and be ready for the Big Ten race and beyond.

 

 

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