Michigan Basketball: Bet Against Jordan Morgan, Wolverines at Your Own Peril

Zach DirlamSenior Analyst IIMarch 25, 2014

Jordan Morgan is more determined than ever to make up for lost time.
Jordan Morgan is more determined than ever to make up for lost time.Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

All eyes were on the Wichita State-Kentucky showdown in Saint Louis last weekend, and rightfully so, considering it came down to the final shot. The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry will hog the national spotlight for much of this week, while the rest of the focus will be on red-hot teams like Florida, Michigan State and UCLA.

Not much attention is being paid to arguably the toughest out remaining in the NCAA tournament: Michigan. 

The second-seeded Wolverines are the one team no one in this field should want to face right now.

They have two of the nation's best shooting guards in Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. They have a freakishly-athletic forward with a knack for draining jumpers this time of year in Glenn Robinson III. They have a pair of point guards who take care of the basketball and help this team rank No. 7 nationally in turnovers per game. 

But they also have something nobody else in the country has: Jordan Morgan.

None of the national pundits or analysts will be talking about him this week either. If they do, it will probably follow a comment about Tennessee's Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes. They will say the two power forwards are going to play grown-man basketball and give Michigan headaches on the interior, as if Morgan stands no chance of even slowing down either one.

Wait a minute, though. Isn't this the same story everyone heard last week? 

Seventh-seeded Texas, which boasts one of the biggest frontcourts in the country, was supposed to batter the Wolverines in the paint.

Cameron Ridley, a 2012 McDonald's All-American selection, had an extra inch and 35 pounds on Morgan, which some predicted would amount to a bad mismatch for Michigan.

"I was really stunned at the lack of height, quite frankly," Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman told TheWolverine's John Borton. "Then I look at the stat sheet and see their big guy, Jordan Morgan, only averages about six points a game. That really threw me off."

Instead, Morgan turned in his second consecutive double-double. Ridley, on the other hand, looked worn out all game and attempted just five shots.

Maymon and Stokes present a completely different challenge, but does anyone really want to bet against Morgan?

Before making that decision, it is important to understand all he has endured. 

Morgan arrived in Ann Arbor and tipped the scales at 6'8", 270 pounds with 29 percent body fat.

"I’ll tell you, he could not make a 30-second sprint when he first got here," head coach John Beilein told UMHoops earlier this month. "He couldn’t even do one, let alone three in a row, which all our guys can do pretty well."

After redshirting in 2009-10, and hitting the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson, the Detroit native started all 35 games the following season. He would go on to start all but one game as a redshirt sophomore and eventually made 53 consecutive appearances in the starting five.

Everything seemed to be rolling for Morgan. An ankle injury on Jan. 27, 2013 threw a wrench into it all.

Beilein said back in July, according to Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops:

I don’t think we’ll ever be able to really put a number on what that cost him, that injury... That sprain was nagging and threw off his timing, it threw off his confidence. It will really be big for him to come back the way he had played at several times over his career here. There were times he was the best big man on the court – on either team.

He lost his starting job to star forward Mitch McGary. He played just 25 minutes during Michigan's run to the national title game. With McGary spurning the NBA draft for another year with the Wolverines, Morgan seemed destined to finish his career as a reserve. 

Once McGary announced he would undergo back surgery eight games into the 2013-14 season, the door swung open for Morgan to take back the job he lost. 

But not even his greatest believers could have seen this coming.

Since senior night on March 8, Morgan has averaged 10 points and 7.8 rebounds. This is by far the best stretch of basketball he has played during his college career. And it couldn't come at a better time for Michigan.

Jordan Morgan's leadership is not something any box score could measure.
Jordan Morgan's leadership is not something any box score could measure.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Those numbers do not even begin to measure what Morgan brings to the Wolverines. Those things will never appear in a box score.

He is the emotional leader, team captain and provides a defensive presence in the paint Michigan needs now more than ever. He may not be the best player on this talent-laden team, but one could make a strong case he is the most important one.

Out of an entire group of players with massive chips on their shoulders, Morgan carries the biggest one of all. Last season should have been the crowning achievement in his career. Fate intervened in the cruelest way possible.

Now, he is hungrier than ever to make up for the time he lost. Nothing is going to stop him.

"At this point, I think people like to kind of say that we can’t accomplish things," Morgan said after Saturday's win, according to Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press. "We embrace that."

Doubt Morgan all you want. The way he is playing now, though, Michigan should be the favorite to make it out of the Midwest Region and to its second straight Final Four. 

Beilein on @michiganinsider, on @JustJMo: I've never seen him have so much confidence in what he can do.

— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) March 25, 2014

Jordan Morgan is having a "Mitch McGary" type impact for Michigan. Through two NCAA games - 12.5 PPG, 10 RPG. Bar gets raised vs. Tennessee!

— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 25, 2014

So bet against Morgan and the Wolverines, if you wish. Once Michigan and Tennessee hit the floor and enter the knock-down, drawn-out battle this matchup is sure to be, there is one guy I'd want to have on my side. 

"Jordan Morgan is a testament to what Michigan basketball represents," assistant coach Bacari Alexander told Borton (subscription required). "The performance that he gave (against Texas) represented the moxie, the belief, the determination all throughout his career.

"I'll take him down a dark alley with me any day."


Want to talk more Michigan basketball? Follow me on Twitter: @Zach_Dirlam