Continuing on with our returning player previews, today we take a look at starting center Jordan Morgan.
6’8″, 250 pounds
Univ. of Detroit Jesuit High School (2005-09)
Career Highs: Points – 27, Rebounds – 12, Assists – 3, Steals – 3, Blocks – 3 (twice), Minutes – 35 (twice)
Career to Date: Jordan Morgan’s road to Ann Arbor is one that most didn’t see coming. John Beilein is widely known as a coach that often recruits and takes lower-rated players and turns them into integral parts of his team, finding potential in them that no one else saw. Morgan was one of the first to do this for him at Michigan. Though he played at UD Jesuit High, a private school in Detroit that is certainly known on the recruiting trail, Morgan was undersized and labeled as a sort of tweener – he was pretty tall at 6’8”, but he was thought to be too skinny to fight in the post in college and too unskilled to be a quality D1 talent.
Morgan is reliable down low but will need to diversify his offense (photo by Chris Asadian, AnnArbor.com)
When Beilein came calling, Morgan’s dad was surprised. When Michigan offered, Morgan’s dad was stunned. Jordan Morgan committed almost instantly. His freshman year, a number of lower body injuries and the need to put on weight sidelined him for the majority of the year, so he took a redshirt.
Now in his fourth year in school and third year playing, Morgan is a completely different player. Sure, he is still fairly one-dimensional on offense, but his body is a chiseled 250 pounds, allowing him to bang with the big boys on a regular basis and usually win the battle.
With some of the most experience on the team, Jordan Morgan will be called upon to provide leadership on and off the court, something he has seemingly picked up easily in mentoring the younger players. During games, Morgan’s role will be much like Mitch McGary’s – rebound and play defense. Points will come, but they won’t need to come in droves from JMo for the team to succeed. One of three returning starters, Jordan Morgan’s spot in the lineup should be relatively safe, but with the added depth in the front court, don’t be surprised to see his minutes actually decrease slightly.
What He Will Provide:
1. A Physical Presence: Morgan isn’t the biggest player in college or the Big Ten, and will play games against guys that have two or three inches on him, but he is a battler down low. He rarely gives ground easily on either side of the court and will need to use his strength to get good position on offense and maintain good position on defense. The Big Ten has some excellent big men in Cody Zeller, Trevor Mbakwe, Derrick Nix, and others, and while McGary will help down low, Morgan is one of the leaders of this team and will be asked to hold his own on both ends of the floor.
2. Basketball IQ: If there ever was a true “student-athlete”, Jordan Morgan is it. He is an excellent student in the classroom in Michigan’s prestigious School of Engineering and excels on the court, in large part because of his intelligence. He has really learned to master the pick-and-roll despite playing with two vastly different point guards in his first two seasons, his hustle down the court in crucial situations is admirable, and he has shown the ability to take charges on occasion by being in the right spot.
3. Leadership: Leadership is constantly hammered as an ultimate intangible, and though it will never show up in the box score, it really is important. No one forgets the 2009-10 season when Michigan came into the season ranked 15th overall after losing “only” C.J. Lee and David Merritt and proceeded to flounder to a sub-.500 record. This year, Michigan not only has to replace the on-court production of Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, but it must also replace their invaluable leadership. Jordan Morgan is one of those guys that will be asked to be a leader, and he seems like a perfect candidate for it.
What He Will Have to Improve On:
1. Offensive Diversity: Morgan hasn’t necessarily struggled to score the ball in his two seasons, but he hasn’t shown that he is capable from scoring outside of five feet either. To get defenses to respect his mid-range game and force a man to defend him outside of the paint, Morgan would be wise to put in work on his shot. The three-ball isn’t a necessary addition for the big man, but if Morgan can develop a 10-12 foot jumper from the elbow, he would be frightening to face and he would also spread the floor while giving himself the option to drive past a man on the pump-fake. It should be noted that if Morgan can step out and knock down the jumper, his shooting percentage will likely go down, but that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Obviously a 12-footer is a lower percentage shot than a dunk, but by keeping the defense honest, Morgan will create opportunities for others and easier opportunities for himself down low.
Morgan provides a physical presence on the inside (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)
2. Touch: Jordan Morgan has easily led Michigan in field goal percentage in his two seasons and has been near the top of the Big Ten in that time as well, but he could improve that number even more if he improved his touch near the rim. His tremendous shooting numbers have mostly been a product of a majority of his shots being layups and dunks, but Morgan occasionally rocks balls off the backboard when he has a tougher look at the hoop. Additionally, his touch at the free throw line will need to improve to keep the defense honest and not play Hack-a-Shaq style defense against him.
3. Defense: This admittedly contradicts a few points I have already made, but Jordan Morgan could stand to improve his defensive decision-making. His averages of 3.2 and 2.4 fouls per game in his two seasons indicate that Morgan could stand to be a bit less aggressive on defense. Morgan has been called for four or five fouls 22 times in 69 games, meaning he has been at the very least in danger of fouling out in nearly one-third of Michigan’s games. Obviously the depth in the front-court should make these problems fairly miniscule, but there will be games that the Wolverines need Morgan on the floor to close out a game. On another note, we’ve seen Morgan effectively shut down Jared Sullinger on his best defensive days and give up 29 points and five rebounds to Rocko Holmes of Concordia on his worst nights. If Morgan can play solid defense on every night, Michigan will be tough to beat.
Burning Question: Will Morgan’s offensive game evolve?
We’ve seen Jordan Morgan be an effective inside player at times, throwing down dunks and running the court, and be neutralized at other times by stronger opponents. If Morgan can develop any sort of mid-range game, he will be a nightmare for opposing big men that will have to account for both him and Mitch McGary or Jon Horford on the court at the same time. If he can’t, defenders will sag on him and pack the paint when Michigan deploys a two-big lineup, making it very difficult to score inside. The key to Beilein’s offense is spreading out the defense and finding the open shooter. Morgan has the potential to do his part by forcing the defense to respect his game outside the paint.
Favorite Big Ten Opponent: Iowa – averages 13.0 points (15-of-17 FG, 9-of-14 FT), 6.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0 blocks, 2.3 turnovers, 27.7 minutes per game.
Going Forward: Morgan should be in line to start every game this season except in the event of injury or Beilein opting to play a small lineup and McGary overtaking him at the five. If he can rebound effectively and play good defense against opposing big men, his job will be done. The screen-and-roll will certainly be around plenty and JMo will be seen running the court for easy dunks on occasion as well. A strong season down low is crucial to a strong season overall for Michigan.
Stat Predictions: 8.5 points (55 FG%, 60.1 FT%), 5.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.8 steals in 22 minutes per game.