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December 28, 2013

Michigan's ceiling lower without McGary

Friday's Michigan basketball press conference was more a "where do we go from here" after big man Mitch McGary announced he'd opted for surgery to repair a lower back condition. Head coach John Beilein has earned a reputation of being able to do more with less on occasion, and he'll have to do it once again.

The Wolverines are not bereft of talent, however. Though losing their preseason All-American very likely for the remainder of the season lowers the team's ceiling, big men Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have plenty of experience. Morgan was the starter on a Big Ten championship team, and there's plenty of talent around the centers.

"We're sort of in the middle somewhere of who we are right now, and now we have to figure it out," Beilein said. "Now it's definitive. There's no Mitch. We have to move on. That's the only relief in this thing - we can be definitive in what we want to do

"While Jon and Jordan feel bad for Mitch, they've got to be excited about this - their opportunity."

So, too, does redshirt sophomore Max Bielfeldt, who will probably play in every game going forward, Beilein added. Freshman Mark Donnal is still slated to redshirt unless something significant and unforeseen happens to one of the other bigs.

Michigan survived Stanford, 68-65, last week playing without McGary.

"It's better than nothing that we've been there," Beilein said. "At the same time, we have to change, a little bit, some of the things that we were doing.

"One of the options we wanted this year was to play through him more, and we were preparing for that in the summer and the spring. Then all of the sudden the injury comes [in August], and now we can't do that and now he starts coming back [in November] and we start moving back to that and now we've got to go back again," Beilein said.

McGary emerged into one of the nation's premier big men in last year's NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Now, though, the Wolverines will move on hoping their other bigs can shoulder the load.

"Are we rebuilding? Are we restructuring everything?" Beilein said. "No, but we are now taking our offensive and defensive plans and changing them to now better suit a team without Mitch McGary.

"We want Mitch to be 100 percent healthy again. He has worked very hard over the last few months and during his earlier rehab. He was making progress in practice and games; however, lately he began to experience the same pain he had when we held him out of preseason practice this fall. Our first priority is Mitch's overall health, even though I am certain he would rather be back on the court right now."

Horford has shown signs of improving, but he's had trouble staying on the court at times due to foul trouble. Neither he nor Morgan has been consistent in finishing around the rim, and neither has McGary's hands. Catching and finishing was an issue for both before McGary's return, and it will remain so until one or both proves otherwise.

The Wolverines were already a perimeter team - now they'll rely even more on their guards and wings with the hope that forward Glenn Robinson III continues to assert himself on the offensive end. Horford has developed a bit in the post, but Morgan's defensive know-how and experience will be critical. He was a key player on U-M's Big Ten championship team, but he needs to show he can take his game to another level if U-M is going to have a shot to compete for another conference title.

McGary's injury doesn't have to be a death knell for the season, but it will take an infusion of toughness and a heck of a coaching job for the Wolverines to match the heights they reached in each of the past two years.

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