Mitch McGary

Mitch McGary out indefinitely after electing to undergo back surgery

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Michigan center Mitch McGary has been battling a back injury the entire season. He missed the first two games of the year against UMass Lowell and South Carolina State — both easy wins for the Wolverines — and missed Michigan’s most recent game against Stanford.

An All-American in the preseason, McGary has been unable to replicate his dominant play he demonstrated throughout last season’s NCAA Tournament as a freshman.

On Friday afternoon and with Big Ten play right around the corner, it was announced that McGary will undergo surgery to his back and will be out indefinitely.

In a release by the school, McGary expounded on his decision to have surgery:

My back problems have been a daily challenge ever since late August. 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.

There is no timetable for McGary’s return. If there is one minor bright spot for Michigan, it’s that their next five games come against Holy Cross, Minnesota, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State. They will ostensibly be able to ease into Big Ten play without McGary.

Michigan head coach John Beilein commented on McGary’s back surgery:

He was making progress in practice and games; however, lately he began to experience the same pain he had when we held him out of preseason practice this fall. Our first priority is Mitch’s overall health even though I am certain he would rather be back on the court right now.

For the season, McGary is averaging 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in nearly 25 minutes per game. The Michigan front court figured to be a point of strength heading into the season. In fact, it had to be, especially with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. heading to the NBA.

The onus now falls on the shoulders of Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan to step in for McGary.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.