Redshirt junior center Jordan Morgan suffered a scary-looking injury in Sunday's 74-60 win at Illinois, when his ankle rolled under him while trying to get a rebound.
Morgan received treatment during the game, and returned to the bench in the second half, though he did not see game action after the injury. With a quick turnaround before Wednesday night's contest vs. Northwestern, Michigan coach John Beilein is not optimistic that Morgan will return before tipoff.
"I don't expect [Morgan to play], based on seeing the ankle today," Beilein said. "There is a lot of discoloration. We will wait and see. He probably will not play tomorrow. We will wait and see. I haven't seen him give it a try yet."
Fortunately for the Wolverines, there is a deep corps of big men who can help alleviate the absence of Morgan from the lineup. Freshman Mitch McGary, redshirt junior Jon Horford and redshirt freshman Max Bielfeldt all rotated into the Illinois game, giving solid minutes and production.
The three of them combined for 17 points and 14 rebounds against the Illini.
"That was a luxury we had in that game," Beilein said, of the rotation. "We were going to play Max anyhow, because he had been playing well in practice, playing with two big guys sometimes, because Illinois traditionally plays with two bigs. We liked what we got out of Jon Horford especially in that game. He has been working hard, just looking for minutes. Each time in his career, when he was just about there - in Hawaii last year, preseason this year - he had an injury. I am really pleased for him."
If Morgan can't go, Beilein believes either Horford or McGary will start, though he hasn't made a decision just yet.
"We will have a little competition today in practice and see what we can figure out," Beilein said. "It's probably either Mitch or Jon. Because of the experience Jon has over three years - albeit he has been injured a lot - and Mitch's experience this year. But Max will get in there."
Although Morgan hasn't lit up the box score this season, his presence on the floor - especially on the defensive end - has been invaluable for the Wolverines.
"Jordan Morgan has really learned to be a defensive specialist in some regard," Beilein said. "And he does a wonderful job for us. That is the last line of defense - the safety in football. If everything else breaks down and he plays it poorly, you give up layups.
"When he has his mind focused and he's really on his defense, he is incredibly good at hedging ball screens, because of his athleticism. The issue with all big men is you have to do that correctly, because you'll either get in foul trouble or they'll get easy baskets. You have to have a lot of energy and play through your fatigue, and you have to understand how the ref is going to call it. He does a wonderful job. You see far less foul trouble that you used to."
Morgan's clean defense will be missed. Against the Illini, McGary racked up four personal fouls, Horford had three and Bielfeldt had one.
That's something the young big men will have to learn and adjust to, especially as their minutes increase with Morgan off the floor.
"It's hard because everyone runs unique action," Beilein said. "People run plays to get fouls - don't ever mistake that. There are many teams in this league and throughout college basketball, you'll see a guy run through the lane, hook your arm, put his hands up in the air and yell. And they initiate every part of the action. There are people that do that, and our guys have to learn that that is something they can't bite on. There are different ways people try to get fouled.
"Each official is going to be a little different. I think we have great consistency with the officials in the league right now. … Are they setting the tone early? I once knew a coach who would always start his second-string big man in the second half, because he believed they were always going to call a physical foul at the start of the second half, every time. And why have his best big man get that call?"
Adjusting To Life As No. 1: It hasn't been easy being the top-ranked team in college basketball this year. So far, Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Duke (again) and Michigan have all spent stretches as the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll.
How do you shut out the noise and hype and just play?
"It's on them. It's on Twitter, everywhere," Beilein said. "You have to put in in perspective and say, 'How did we get here? Did we get here because we were No. 1 or because we worked hard every day?' If that has worked so far, let's keep doing it every day.
"I think we're at a point where we have improved daily, with great chemistry. We're 6-1 in the Big Ten with 11 more, six home and five away. That's right where we are. If we are going to compete for a Big Ten Championship, we are going to have to compete on the road and win at home. Last year, we won it with an 8-1 home record, and 9-0, we would have been sole champions. Our kids don't want that to slip away."
Beilein admitted that it is sometimes difficult to quantify the mantra of "getting better every day."
"It's like when you see your own child every day and they look the same," Beilein said. "Try going away for three weeks and then come see the youngster. He has changed. It's tough to measure, but we do see those "A-Ha" moments with our guys. Jon missed a layup, but he kept the ball up. Some of our guys have a tendency to bring the ball down, and if you do that in this league, it is snatched from you. And Jon kept it up. Those are moments every day.
"Mitch will look at me and say, 'I kept it up, didn't I?' Those moments are when you see, maybe they're not doing it yet, but they understand it. Little by little. Nik [Stauskas] was not cutting as hard as he needed to. After he got open a couple times, I said, 'How are you getting open?' and he said, 'Coach, I'm cutting harder.' Those are the things you do see. From a coaching standpoint, there is always something else."