Michigan Basketball: Which Version of Mitch McGary Will Show Up in 2014?

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterJune 19, 2013

Apr 6, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Mitch McGary (4) celebrates after defeating the Syracuse Orange in the the semifinals during the 2013 NCAA mens Final Four at the Georgia Dome. Michigan Wolverines won 61-56. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The best big man in the NCAA tournament spent most of the season coming off the bench and averaging 6.0 points per game.

The big man in the NCAA tournament had six regular season games when he scored only two points and was shut out once.

The best big man in the NCAA tournament was Mitch McGary, the shoo-in for preseason first-team All-American. That other guy was Mitch McGary, a project big man.

The assumption is that based off six games in the NCAA tournament that McGary is going to be much closer to the guy he was in those final six games than the one he was the first 33.

That’s what happens when you perform the way McGary did on the biggest stage, averaging 15.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament.

Here’s what we know is a certainty regarding McGary’s game. He is an elite rebounder. He proved that from start to finish last year. He ranked 10th in offensive rebounding percentage (per KenPom.com—subscription needed) and grabbed 22.4 percent of available defensive rebounds. That should continue in 2013-14. 

What we’re assuming based off the tournament is that he can be an elite offensive threat as well.

The challenge in that regard is continuing to produce without the services of National Player of the Year Trey Burke. In the tournament, Burke assisted on 13 of McGary’s 40 buckets. McGary also benefited from the penetration of Tim Hardaway Jr., who assisted on nine of McGary’s baskets in the tournament.

What made McGary so valuable in John Beilein’s offense—and why McGary sparked the March run—is that he could finish what his guards created. McGary took 70 percent of his shots at the rim and shot 70 percent at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com’s data. With Burke's ability to draw defenders, that made life in the paint pretty simple.

McGary is now spending the offseason working on creating more for himself.

Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander recently told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that the plan is to move McGary from center to power forward, which would give him some more freedom in the offense.

McGary showed against Syracuse in the Final Four that he can work in space. Working from the middle of the zone mostly, McGary had six assists.

Alexander told Snyder:

As he showed a maturation to shoot it when you’re open, pass it when you’re not and make accurate passes and balance and things of that nature, now we can entertain that plan that we originally planned for previously. In addition to that, increasing the shooting range is something that’s going to be a critical asset for him. But the not-so-much-talked-about aspect of making a position change is what you do defensively.

Michigan’s defense will be at its best when he’s able to protect the rim, but Alexander’s point is that in order to defend fours—many of whom are stretch fours in today’s college basketball—he has to be comfortable away from the paint. McGary has the quickness to defend outside. He just needs to show Michigan’s coaches he can do so without fouling.

The Wolverines pride themselves on fouling less often than any team in the country and McGary committed 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes last year.

As Alexander pointed out, the other area of McGary’s game that he could improve is his outside shooting. The ideal scoring big man in Beilein’s offense is one that can shoot it—think Kevin Pittsnogle.

McGary did not shot one three last year, but he did show an ability to hit the mid-range jumper in the tournament. McGary knocked down nine of his 18 jumpers in the tournament, according to CBSSports.com’s shot charts. This was an improvement from the regular season when he made approximately 34.7 percent of his jumpers, according to Hoop-Math.com’s data.

The final key to McGary putting up numbers is how well incoming freshmen guards Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton create. Beilein can try to run some offense through McGary, but he is still going to be at his best when he’s on the receiving end of a nice drive and dish.

If those guards can captain the offense right away like Burke did his freshman season, McGary should be able to live up to the expectations he created for himself in six productive games.