helped Michigan reach the national title game against Louisville in March. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)
When Michigan center Mitch McGary announced he would return to Michigan for his sophomore season after averaging more than 14 points and 10 rebounds over 6 NCAA Tournament games, the Wolverines’ preseason expectations rose accordingly. Now Michigan, unranked and with four losses, faces the prospect of playing the rest of the season without its preseason All-American big man.
McGary will be out indefinitely after electing to have surgery on his lower back, the program announced in a statement released Friday afternoon.
"My back problems have been a daily challenge ever since late August," McGary said in the statement. "We have worked hard rehabbing the injury and I thought that everything was proceeding in the right direction until the last two weeks. I have consulted with my family, my coaches and our doctors and decided the best option now is to have surgery. This was a difficult decision to make because I want to be out there with my teammates. At the same time, I need to be healthy to give everything I can on the court and help my team."
While the school medical staff expects McGary to make a full recovery, it’s reasonable to question whether the 6-foot-10, 265-pound forward will play again this season. Sources told ESPN's Jeff Goodman that its highly unlikely McGary will return in 2013-14.
Over eight games this season, McGary – who missed Michigan’s first two games and the most recent one, a 68-65 neutral-court win over Stanford – averaged 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds while playing at less than full strength. Had he decided to leave school after his NCAA tournament breakout, McGary likely would have been a first-round draft pick. DraftExpress projects McGary to be a first-round pick in 2014, but this injury could dent his draft stock.
Without McGary, Michigan will likely look for guard Nik Stauskus (18.4 ppg) and forward forward Glenn Robinson III (13.4) to provide more scoring. Forwards Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, two serviceable, if not great, frontcourt options, will likely see their playing time increase. The Wolverines will struggle to compete with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten, but they should still be able to qualify for March Madness.
Michigan hosts Holy Cross on Saturday before opening Big Ten play Jan. 2 at Minnesota.