Michigan won a number of games with redshirt junior Jordan Morgan in the starting lineup this year, and there were stretches this year in which he was U-M's best defensive player. Freshman Mitch McGary has emerged and will start again tonight, but Morgan is on standby after an outstanding week of practice.
All eyes will be on Kansas big man Jeff Withey and his shot-blocking ability in tonight's Sweet 16 match-up, and rightfully so. Michigan big man coach Bacari Alexander, though, has plenty of confidence in his bigs to more than hold their own and help the Wolverines advance to the Elite Eight.
"Withey is very long, but he's only 235 pounds. All of my bigs on average are 250, so from a bumping and grinding standpoint I think we're fine," Alexander said. "I just have to make sure our aggressiveness doesn't get the best of us. We've worked a lot this week on proper positions, working early in possessions and sometimes even conceding if they beat us on an angle. We might have to give up a layup in an instance of no implication at that stage of the game, just get to the next possession.
"There are a lot of battles in the midst of the war."
That means they'll need all hands on deck, including (potentially) Morgan along with redshirt sophomore Jon Horford, perhaps even redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt. Morgan has been supportive of teammates despite playing sparingly in his first two games, and he's practiced well this week, Alexander shared.
"He had a tremendous week," he said. "I'm really pleased with not only his timing, pop and vigor, but also his ability to instruct and help others. That says a lot about that young man, his maturity and leadership skill set."
He needs to be ready to go if called upon, he added, and Morgan insisted he would be.
"You know what is going to happen, so I have to stay ready," he said. "They have a lot of size, so you never know how we're going to have to play. I'll practice hard, continue to get better and stay positive. Everybody has been playing well, so there's no need to mess with things. I know what's most important right now is the team's success."
On the positive side, the added rest has allowed him to heal the ankle he twisted grotesquely in a win at Illinois earlier this year. Morgan anticipates he's at least 90 percent, having gotten up better on the ankle than he has in weeks.
Despite his limited action recently, he remains fully on board. Head coach John Beilein shared his vision with Morgan when he recruited him four years ago, and it's coming to fruition.
"Looking back, that was a lot of faith he had in all the players he recruited," Morgan said. "I made the choice to be a part of this, part of getting better every year, pushing this to get it back where it should be.
"Coach Beilein was always honest, cared about me and my family even before I got here. There was no reason not to believe him. It was a matter of faith. That attracted me to come here, the opportunity to help rebuild this program."
Whether he plays another minute or not, he's been an integral part of its success.