What about Mitch McGary?
That was the frequent counter to my column on the impact of Branden Dawson’s absence in Michigan’s 79-70 win over Michigan State Sunday.
Michigan fans, in emails and on Twitter, politely pointed to the absence of the Wolverine’s 2013 NCAA tournament star big man as leveling the excuse playing field. Both players were a critical man down, they said, and Michigan won.
Here are my two counters to the McGary question:
- First, the column was about Michigan State and its realities. Not U-M’s. No one is questioning the Wolverines’ worthiness as a team or program. Read the column, not just the headline, please.
From MSU’s perspective, Dawson’s broken hand and month-long absence alone, I believe is the reason Sunday’s game had anything to do with the Big Ten championship. MSU beats Wisconsin, Nebraska and U-M the first time, if it has Dawson. So even if the Spartans lost at Iowa (very possible if the game was replayed, with Dawson and Adreian Payne) and in Ann Arbor, at worst, MSU is 13-2 in the Big Ten.
The better argument against the column is that Dawson hurt his hand unnecessarily, losing his temper, not from an on-court injury. His situation is a result of immaturity and personality, all part of the package MSU recruited when it recruited Dawson. Ergo, no excuse.
- Regarding the Dawson-McGary comparison, the Spartans are unquestionably a better team the second Dawson rejoins them, which is expected to happen this week. U-M wouldn’t necessarily improve right away with McGary, who isn’t coming back this season anyway. That might sound strange, but Tom Izzo (and Beilein and his coaches, I believe) think so, too.
MSU misses Dawson for his defense and rebounding – on Nigel Hayes at Wisconsin, against Nebraska’s Terran Petteway, on Caris LeVert. He is someone who provides extra possessions and negates bad matchups, without playing massive role in the flow of the offense.
McGary would naturally be a huge part of U-M’s attack. And while the Wolverine’s NCAA tournament ceiling would be greater with him, they’d be worse for a while. They’ve got too much terrific read-and-react stuff going on offensively — action that took months to get to this point with a young team. They’ve got bigs who, while limited (see allowing Frank Kaminski to look like Hakeem Olajuwon), fit this free-flowing offense featuring brilliant wing players better than McGary does.
So yes, Michigan is a man down. Has been all Big Ten season. Really all season. MSU, though, has lost 33 games to injury, illness and one suspension, spread over seven players, including every starter.
Comparison’s aren’t coming from reality, but fandom.