John Beilein: "I've got confidence that Jordan's going to bounce back somewhere in this tournament and really help us." (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein is trying to find the right potion to cure what ails junior forward Jordan Morgan.
Leading up to the Wolverines' NCAA Tournament game against South Dakota State Thursday, Beilein said he'll put Morgan on the scout team during practices for extra reps, in addition to some extra film work and conversations with the coach.
"He's an important part of, obviously, our defense, and we all know he's been a much better offensive player than he's been since his injury," Beilein said Tuesday.
Morgan suffered an ankle injury at Illinois on Jan. 27 and hasn't looked as comfortable since his return. In 11 games since the injury, Morgan has averaged just 2.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, a significant drop off from his 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds the rest of the season.
Those struggles have led to expanded roles for freshman Mitch McGary and sophomore Jon Horford.
"The injury probably has a lot to do with it," Beilein said. "You lose that, you lose all those reps — big thing to do with it. It would really be helpful if he plays at the level we've seen him play before in this NCAA Tournament."
If Morgan wants to play an important role in the NCAA Tournament, he'll have to prove himself early in games because Beilein has had a quick hook recently. Morgan played just eight minutes and had three turnovers in a second-round loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament last week. In a first-round victory over Penn State, Morgan played just 10 minutes.
Of course, there are also questions about Morgan's confidence and how much his missed, last-second putback in the regular season finale against Indiana is weighing on him.
"I've got confidence that Jordan's going to bounce back somewhere in this tournament and really help us," Beilein said. "Obviously, Thursday would be a great place to start that."
Against South Dakota State, how much Morgan and the other big men play may be out of their hands as Beilein tries to defend a perimeter-oriented team.
All but one of the Jackrabbits' starters hoists an average of 3.8 3-pointers or more per game. The lone standout is center Tony Fiegen, who had zero attempts from beyond the arc, but he can knock down jumpers, too, Beilein said.
The Jackrabbits' other big, forward Jordan Dykstra, shot 43 percent on his 128 3-point attempts this season.
"There's many times there's nobody underneath the basket, and there's five guys that we have to guard," Beilein said. "Those are challenges when you play against a team that knows how to play together and has five perimeter guys. They're going to get open shots sometimes. It's very hard to stop that."
'Right pass, right time'
Many college basketball analysts have compared Michigan point guard Trey Burke to South Dakota State point guard Nate Wolters in anticipation of Thursday's game, but the two players have vastly different styles.
Beilein, using assistant coach Bacari Alexander's comparison, said Wolters plays similar to longtime NBA point guard Mark Price.
"He has a great ability to make the right pass at the right time. Instantaneously, he just is there. There's not a thought," Beilein said. "He gets many more assists by not taking the extra dribble, by not thinking too much and just hitting the open man."
Wolters averaged 22.7 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game this season. He also averaged 6.6 free-throw attempts and shot 81 percent at the line.
The Wolverines should hope the Wolters-Price comparison isn't entirely accurate. Price led Georgia Tech to the Elite Eight in 1985 and the Sweet 16 in 1986.
Michigan's opening-game loss to Ohio in last year's NCAA Tournament was disappointing, but expectations are even higher this season.
The Wolverines have been ranked in the top 10 all season and have the talent to make a deep run in the tournament. But whatever happens this weekend, Beilein is confident the program is on an upswing.
"No matter what happens in this NCAA Tournament, we are moving forward," he said. "You look at our team, the makeup of our team and the recruits coming in — we're moving forward."