Jordan Morgan

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Barack Obama sends letter to Michigan senior Jordan Morgan after his graduation (PHOTO)

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Jordan Morgan had a solid senior season for Michigan, averaging 6.4 points and five rebounds per game on 70 percent shooting from the field in 20.1 minutes per game. The 6-foot-8 senior really stepped up his play in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, as well, as Morgan went for multiple double-doubles and was a key member of Michigan’s run to the Elite Eight.

And although Michigan fell short of a second consecutive Final Four, Morgan moves on as a graduate from the university as the big man received his master’s degree in manufacturing engineering after receiving his bachelor’s in industrial and operational engineering.

Pretty cool that Morgan received a letter from the President as a college graduate after a solid playing career.

(H/T: Big Ten Network)

Without major minutes from Jordan Morgan, Michigan falls just short of another Final Four

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INDIANAPOLIS — Coming into Sunday’s Elite Eight game with No. 8 Kentucky, No. 2 Michigan had to feel confident in another close game that was coming down the wire. The Wolverines entered Sunday’s game 10-2 in games decided by five points or less — including nine straight wins in that situation — and Michigan seemed to thrive in late-game situations during the 2013-14 season.

But the Wolverines’ streak of strong play in tight games ended on Sunday as Aaron Harrison’s three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left gave Kentucky the 75-72 win, ending Michigan’s chances of making back-to-back Final Fours.

The Wolverines could never get over the hump in the second half against Kentucky.

After withstanding an early 8-2 second-half run from the Wildcats, Michigan rallied to take a 55-51 lead with 11:27 left but Kentucky was the one that made key plays down the stretch to come away with the victory. After tying the game at 55 with 8:52 remaining on a Julius Randle jumper, Kentucky never trailed again in the contest. Despite Michigan tying the game at 70-all and 72-all, Kentucky roared back and got baskets to maintain its late-game lead.

It just wasn’t Michigan’s night to win a close game in a season that had seen them pull out a lot of close finishes.

“Each team had spurts in the game where they made runs,” freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. said. “Their run kind of lasted longer than ours and the ball bounced their way tonight so credit them for executing their game plan.”

As Michigan forward Jordan Morgan sat with his shoulders slumped and his eyes red on a golf cart taking him from the Wolverines’ locker room to the postgame press conference, the senior completely looked the part of someone who had just lost their final college basketball game in heartbreaking fashion.

Disappointment was abound in the Michigan locker room in Lucas Oil Stadium, but most of the Wolverines seemed upset that they couldn’t get over the hump for Morgan, the only senior on Michigan’s roster.

“It hurts having a guy like J-Mo, putting his blood, heart, sweat and tears into this game and for this team,” Walton said. “Coming up short, knowing you could have made an extra play for him it kind of hurts.”

Michigan’s season has been defined by the extraordinary play of Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, the talent of sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III and the emergence of younger players like Walton and sophomore wing Caris LeVert but losing Morgan to foul trouble for much of the game hurt Michigan tremendously on Sunday.

Morgan had been playing at a very high level in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and with the senior only playing 22 minutes on Sunday, Kentucky took advantage on the interior. Michigan’s offense missed Morgan’s ability to screen and slip on pick-and-rolls and the Wolverines’ offense wasn’t nearly as potent with junior forward Jon Horford in the lineup.

Morgan finished 5-for-6 from the field with 11 points on Sunday.

The Wildcats also pounded the glass for a 35-24 advantage and outscored Michigan in the paint 46-36. The Wolverines actually outscored Kentucky on second-chance points, 23-17, but without Morgan’s consistency inside, players like Julius Randle (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Marcus Lee (10 points, eight rebounds) made a killing on the inside.

Morgan had only one double-double during the regular season but the senior had back-to-back double-doubles in Michigan’s first two NCAA Tournament wins over Wofford and Texas. The forward also added 15 points and seven rebounds in Friday’s win over Tennessee as Morgan took the key charge on Volunteers junior forward Jarnell Stokes with the game on the line for Michigan.

​”One of the things we noticed with Jordan, when he has more playing time that he’s really excelled,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said after the game. “​The problem we had this year was Jordan was playing so well, he was such a leader and such an asset to the team.”

But without Morgan as Michigan’s rock inside, the Wolverines failed to make a significant run against a Kentucky team that has consistently pounded teams on the interior this season. Morgan’s missing presence in the lineup allowed Kentucky to stay in the game despite Andrew and Aaron Harrison starting a combined 2-for-15 from the field.

Once Aaron Harrison heated up from the perimeter with four three-pointers in the game’s final 8:06, it was too much in the end for Michigan to overcome. The Wolverines had their chance to capitalize on the Harrison twins’ slow start, but couldn’t do so without Morgan in the lineup.

“​It’s tough. You want to be out there, but I think Jon started to play a little bit better the second half,” Morgan said. “He really started to step it up, and, having fouls like that, that was a smart thing to do to just kind of conserve those fouls (and avoid) foul trouble so that I could finish out the game.”

It’s uncertain whether Stauskas, Robinson III and injured sophomore forward Mitch McGary will return to Michigan next season — as the trio flirts with the possibility of jumping to the NBA — but Michigan will surely miss the presence of Morgan next season.

Not many expected Michigan to be one possession away from making back-to-back Final Fours and winning the Big Ten title outright after losing Trey Burke — and the injury to McGary — but Morgan was a big reason why Michigan was a major contender this season.

“(This season) means a lot to us and I’m really happy for Jordan,” LeVert said. “We just tried to reflect on a great season, but at the same time, we lost by three (near) the buzzer, so it’s a tough loss for us.”

Late Night Snacks: Sunday’s Elite 8 matchups set

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 8 Kentucky 74, No. 4 Louisville 69

How does one pick a game of the night amongst a slate of four superiorly played contests? Each of Friday’s Sweet 16 games could have made this cut, but since John Calipari was able to snap Rick Pitino’s streak — prior to Friday, the Louisville coach was 11-0 in Sweet 16 match-ups — the Kentucky win gets top billing. The game did not start strongly for UK — Calipari said he knew his team would ‘pee down their legs‘ once the ball was tipped — and it appeared like Louisville, fueled by Russ Smith’s dunks, Luke Hancock taking each Wildcat off the dribble, and poor UK perimeter shooting, would make a consecutive Elite 8.

The play of Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson, two of the less hyped UK bigs, helped balance the squad until UK could make its run late in the second half. Johnson scored 15 points and grabbed six boards, and Poythress, in particular, changed the contest’s dynamic — without his defensive intensity, which included forcing a Hancock steal and blocking Smith on an open court attempt, UK likely wouldn’t be playing on Sunday.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) No. 7 Connecticut 81, No. 3 Iowa State 76: Until just over two minutes remained in the second half, Connecticut, whose fans packed Madison Square Garden like it was the Big East Tournament and Jim Calhoun was still on the sidelines, was in complete control. At that point, Iowa State was somehow awoken from their game-long stupor and began a too late charge. ISU junior Dustin Hogue put in some serious work, scoring a career-high 34 points (he made 15 out of 19 shots), and DeAndre Daniels was the game’s other DeAndre (as opposed to Kane), splashing the net with crucial jump shots (he finished with 27 points).

2) No. 2 Michigan 73, No. 11 Tennessee 71: When discussing this Sweet 16 tilt years from now, the charging foul on UT’s Jarnell Stokes will be the evergreen moment, while Caris LeVert’s swiping Stokes will be lost as memories fade. The Vols simply could not handle Michigan’s offensive fortitude in the first half, yielding 1.45 points per possession from countless jumpers off flare screens. A combination of tighter defense and careless Michigan turnovers kept this game much closer than the first half would have indicated, and the Wolverines, along with their electric and dynamic scoring, will next face Kentucky.

3) No. 4 Michigan State 80, No. 1 Virginia 78: This game had the feel of being played in a cramped, stuffy sweatbox that only seats a few hundred. It certainly didn’t feel like Madison Square Garden — for much of the second half, fans were standing, refusing to sit for fear of missing the back-and-forth shooting display. The Cavaliers’ pack-line defense was true to form — the duo of Gary Harris and Keith Appling were rendered ineffective, converting just three of eight field goals — but UVa had no match for Branden Dawson, a junior who overpowered (24 points, ten rebounds) the entirety of the Cavs’ frontcourt.

STARRED

1) Branden Dawson, Michigan State: The junior big’s game against Virginia was spectacular, but his play throughout the NCAA tournament is noteworthy: through three games, Dawson is making nearly 60 percent of his twos, grabbing 19 defensive boards, and committing just two turnovers.

2) Alex Poythress, Kentucky: The sophomore only scored six points and grabbed four rebounds against Louisville, but without his defense late in the second half, UK would have likely been the twelfth team on Pitino’s Sweet 16 streak.

3) Jordan Morgan, Michigan : A picture of Morgan was published this week in the Detroit Free-Press, showcasing his transformation from a freshman to senior, and the big looks positively Gaston-esque. That buff physique helped Morgan handle the Vols’ burly interior, and combined with a thorough scouting report, put Morgan in the position to draw the defensive play of the game.

STRUGGLED

1) Willie Cauley-Stein’s ankle: Following the win, Calipari said his center’s ankle injury was “…not a good ankle injury.” It would be very surprising if Cauley-Stein played on Sunday against Michigan, but he could undergo a miraculous turnaround within the next 24 hours.

2) Michigan State’s backcourt: Harris, Appling, and Denzel Valentine combined to make just four field goals against a stout Cavalier defense.

3) Iowa State’s seniors: This isn’t how the Cyclones 2014 season should have ended. After helping to carry the team throughout the year, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane suffered their worst offensive outing in ’14 — Kane was two of nine from the free throw line (he normally makes 63 percent of his free throws), and Ejim converted just three out of thirteen field goals.

Big Ten Tournament: Michigan survives late Illinois rally

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Michigan was humming offensively in the first half. The Wolverines used 30 possessions, scoring 1.26 points per possession on a combination of stellar long-range shooting (46 percent from three) and efficiency within the arc (58 percent). By the start of the second half, Illinois coach John Groce decided to implement a 2-3 zone, and UM’s offense sputtered: during a nine-minute stretch, until three minutes remained in the game, Michigan made just two buckets. Despite the Illini’s stout defense, and Michigan’s inability to score, John Beilein’s squad was able to survive, 64-63, allowing the top-seeded Big Ten team — the first time Michigan has ever attained the top seed — to advance.

The game’s two key plays involved pick and rolls. The first was a Michigan P&R: using Michigan’s what turned out to be UM’s final offensive possession, Nik Stauskas drove right and hit Jordan Morgan for the big’s second make of the contest. The second was the game’s final play, a Tracy Abrams drive into a wide-open yet short-armed floater (when Groce later watches film of the game, we can’t help but wonder whether he’ll bemoan this this Rayvonte Rice fast-break miss).

The win, however, masks what has to be a concern for the Wolverines: their inability to defend in Big Ten play. UM is allowing teams to score 1.06 PPP, the conference’s third worst defensive efficiency rating (which, coincidentally, was Illinois’ PPP in the loss). A popular metric in recent years to predetermine Final Four success is where a team’s PPP and OPPP ranks in Ken Pomeroy’s database. Regarding Michigan, they are offensively solid (ranked third in DI), but their defense nearly slides out of the top 100, and according to some intrepid research, the last Final Four team with a defense as porous as Michigan’s was the Marquette ’03 squad (which featured Dwyane Wade).

Balanced attack leads No. 10 Michigan past Purdue

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Without Mitch McGary, the production of veteran big men Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan has become even more important for No. 10 Michigan. While neither needs to turn into a player who will post 20 points and ten rebounds on a nightly basis, as the Wolverines have other players more capable of scoring, they do have to be productive players who make the most of their time on the floor.

Recently it’s been Morgan who’s stepped up, and on Thursday night the fifth-year season accounted for 11 points and six rebounds in Michigan’s 75-66 win over Purdue. Horford added four points, three rebounds and two assists, and the 15 points and nine rebounds combined from Michigan’s interior tandem was more than enough against the struggling Boilermakers. Nik Stauskas scored 16 points and Caris LeVert (11 rebounds) and Derrick Walton Jr. added 14 apiece to lead the way offensively for Michigan, which shot 60.9% from the field and 7-for-13 from beyond the arc.

There were issues for Michigan however, as the Wolverines turned the ball over 16 times (Stauskas and LeVert had four apiece) and they weren’t at their best on the defensive glass either. Purdue managed to rebound 39.5% of its missed shots, scoring 19 second-chance points and 48 points in the paint.

With an eye towards the bigger games remaining in Big Ten play, the rebounding and points allowed in the paint are areas the Wolverines will need to address after this victory. Entering the game Michigan had done a good job of keeping teams off the offensive glass, rebounding more than 72% of their opponents’ missed shots. They got away from that some on Thursday night but due to their shooting percentages it didn’t prove to be an issue against Purdue.

That may not be the case against better competition, which makes the progression of Morgan and Horford important as the season approaches March. If those two can combine to help Michigan control the glass and the paint, John Beilein’s team will be even tougher to beat.

Michigan wins conference home opener over Northwestern

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Michigan picked up its 10th win of the season, and improved to 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference on Sunday afternoon with a 74-51 win over Northwestern at home.

The first half was relatively close with the Wolverines heading into the break with a 31-24 led. The Wildcats got 13 of their 24 points from Drew Crawford; the rest of Northwestern shot 5-of-15 with five turnovers.

In the second half, Nik Stauksas — who continues to debunk the idea that he’s just a shooter — was able to limit Crawford’s production on the offensive end, shooting 1-of-6 for four points. His only field goal of the half came with 3:05 remaining and the game in hand for Michigan. Crawford ended with 17 points. Stauskas had a game-high 18.

On the offensive end, Michigan was able to get out and run for easy buckets, which it had done on a few occasions in the the first half. Michigan is without preseason All-American Mitch McGary, who is reportedly going in for back surgery on Tuesday. Despite the loss of McGary, big men Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford provided production at the center position, combining for 15 points, 16 rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Morgan scored all of his eight points in the first half, but did more that Michigan offense. He put forth effort, diving for loose balls, running the floor in transition and beating the Northwestern bigs down the floor. He also ran some pick-and-rolls, and helped free up for Caris LeVert for Michigan’s only 3-pointer of the first half, when he cut toward the rim, drawing an additional defender. Spike Albrecht made a cross-court pass to LeVert in the corner, who drilled the triple. That put Michigan up seven, part of a 9-3 run.

McGary out indefinitely is a tough blow for a Michigan. It’s important that Morgan and Horford put forth combined efforts like the one on Saturday. Moving forward the duo will go up against much better frontlines. Michigan should come away with two more wins against Nebraska and Penn State before a three-game slate at No. 4 Wisconsin, at home against No. 22 Iowa and in East Lansing against No. 5 Michigan State.