Nobody knows for certain how much difference a healthy Jordan Morgan would have made in Michigan's record over the last four games, but any knowledgeable U-M hoops fan knows he certainly could have helped. Morgan, Michigan's "defensive general" according to head coach John Beilein, is still nursing an ankle sprain that's limiting his effectiveness.
Morgan's experience was paramount on both ends of the floor in U-M's early run to 20 wins. Getting him back healthy could be the difference between contending in the Big Ten and playing for second place.
"It shows in his lift, his technique," Beilein said. "There were a couple of times [in a Tuesday loss at Michigan State] he didn't make good, physical boxouts the other night, something he hasn't practiced in three weeks since the Illinois game. It's those little things he has got to catch up with. When you practice and do them every day, they just happen. When you're out like that, you just don't react. The biggest problem is reacting quickly in games.
"[We miss him] defensively as a center, giving us some versatility and some consistency backing up Glenn. We were in a good rhythm there where there were five to 10 minutes there when Jordan would go over there. He hasn't been able to do that. Finding a suitable guy to do that had been difficult right now."
Morgan still isn't 100 percent, he added. The starting lineup remains in doubt, in fact, heading into Sunday's game with Penn State.
"The next two days I'll know what's best," Beilein said, noting again the starting lineup isn't as important as the allocation of minutes, and there are times it might be better to bring experience off the bench. "We miss [Morgan] quite a bit. With the game Sunday, we don't play again for eight days. That's time to gauge what he can do.
"We always consider [sitting him] for getting back healthy. He was so anxious to come back in the Indiana game - you have to trust how a young man feels, but in the long run, it probably didn't assist in his recovery."
Robinson continues to work
Freshman Glenn Robinson III, meanwhile, continues to fight through a slump in which he's struggling on both ends of the floor.
"He's a freshman doing the best he can do, a wonderful young man who is learning all the time," Beilein said. "Any freshman that has played like he's played, he's learned so many things. He's doing fine. He hasn't had some of the opportunities because people have shut things down. Just keep playing, do the best you can.
"His only struggles right now are people are defending him differently. He plays off residual stuff we do as he works at his own skill level and what he does really, really well. He doesn't have the same opportunities. It's not like all of a sudden he's missing lots of wide-open shots. He's just learning how to play when it's really physical. I don't see struggles - I see lack of opportunities people are taking away. We've got to keep working. Trying to dial up five guys every game, not easy either."
Robinson is taking the same number of shots now he was earlier in the year, he added.
"We have to find what he is comfortable with," Beilein said. "Right now he's really comfortable being the slasher, the rebounder. But he's playing against 22-year-olds every night. It's reality - a young guy playing really experienced players.
"He's a heck of a player and his potential is so huge. Just keep playing to that. You can't always tell, but I think all those kids felt the span we had - that one extra game that is snuck in on you is a huge difference. I think with a young team, every one of our freshmen looks at their watch and says, 'I've got to go to practice again, another game tomorrow, all this prep. ' A lot that goes on with it, that becomes normal to them - it's not normal."
U-M rededicated Crisler Arena Friday night by introducing Cazzie Russell to the wall reserved for his photo. Glen Rice and several others were also on hand (more on that to come).
"I'm so proud of this new facility," Beilein said. "I liked looking at the eyes of the former players that have come back, the few I've met. There are others to come."
The festivities will continue through Sunday's game with Penn State.
"We regrouped well from the loss at Michigan State," Beilein said. "We had a great practice on Wednesday, a full practice all in, then took yesterday off, ready for a two day prep for the Nittany Lions.
"Part of [a loss at MSU] has to stick with them, part of it is we have to embrace reality. This is life at this level. I saw today in the Sagarin ratings, we've played the third toughest schedule in the country with the third youngest team in the country. It's reality. You're going to have to have bumps in the road, but part of getting better. That's a big bump, but move on."
Junior Tim Hardaway Jr. struggled with only two points against the Spartans. He tweeted an apology to the Michigan fans.
"I think Tim felt really bad," Beilein said. "I thought Tim was playing as well as any player in the country going into that game and had a bad game. He felt bad about it. He wanted to put it out there on twitter that he felt bad about it - you've got to respect him that he's passionate about it, loves Michigan.
"That young man loves Michigan. He felt really bad for all our fans and his teammates. Obviously he is a much better player that he played in that game. It happened. Stuff's going to happen in a 31-game schedule."