The Force Inside
Michigan’s big man McGary plays hard, physical game
ATLANTA -- Michigan’s Mitch McGary has been all the rage lately, and it didn’t take long against Syracuse to figure out why.
If there was a tough, hard-nosed physical play to make against the Orang, more often than not, McGary right in the thick of the battle trying to make it. Need a rebound? McGary had 12 of 'em, nearly twice the total of any other player in the game. He was a force most of the night in the paint.
Assists? Bingo. He posted six, another team high. It was also a season-high for the native of Chesterton, Ind. His previous high was two. It was the first time all year that a Michigan player other than Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. paced Michigan in assists.
Points? He had 10 of those, too, tied for second-most for Michigan on the night. It was the third time in five NCAA tournament games that McGary has had the double-double in points and rebounds.
Those were the cold, hard facts for McGary Saturday. What he actually contributed seemed to be more than that, though. If you’re a Michigan fan, the kid was a heck of a lot of fun to watch play basketball against Syracuse.
And now that Michigan was able to outlast Syracuse 61-56, he’s going to be playing for the biggest prize of his young career -- the NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship.
“I’m just finding my role on the team,” McGary said with a smile. “Guys need me to step up. I’m just getting a lot of open looks and trying to make a lot of good decisions.”
The passes that led to his assists were something to behold, even though practicing them hasn’t always been pretty.
“I consider myself a good passer,” he continued. “Sometimes, I’m too crazy for Coach [John] Beilein and sometimes I turn the ball over. Over the summer, I was doing no-look passes. I’m just trying to make the right play.”
It wasn’t the best of nights for Michigan standout Trey Burke, who made just one of eight shots from the field -- a 3-pointer. He added four three throws for a total of just five points.
Burke’s teammates picked him up, McGary among them. McGary’s role against Syracuse’s zone was part of Michigan’s game plan from the outset.
“We studied them,” Beilein said. “They’ve had so many good games. They have a great coaching staff, and we’ve studied so many of their games. We thought that was an area we might be able to exploit -- if we could pass out of it.
“We did so many passing drills with Mitch, pivot, peak and make a pass. He did a great job. Those six assists was a big number for him. He’s a big target in there as well, which helps.”
It’s huge thing for Michigan that McGary is peaking at just the right time. He’s certainly picked up a believer in Beilein.
“The fire has always been burning,” Beilein said. “There’s always been something there, but he’s made these incremental steps all year long. Sometimes, you looked at him and there’s really some brilliant things he does in there.
“Then, there’s other times, you can see he has a lot to learn. He embraces all that. That’s what’s made it most impressive. The best is yet to come. He continues to study the game. As I’ve said several times, there’s such a high ceiling to his overall game.”