Michigan coach John Beilein was succinct when asked if power forward Mitch McGary would, or could, play Sunday against Kentucky.
“No,” he said.
McGary, a 6-foot-10 sophomore who thrived in last year’s regional in Arlington against Kansas and Florida, has been out since mid-December with a back injury.
On Friday night, before Michigan played Tennessee, McGary surprised everyone when he walked out wearing not a suit but U of M warm-ups. He participated in the layup drill in warm-ups, but never played in the game.
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It wasn’t a ruse, but he is not ready.
He’s not playing, which ultimately could be a major problem for Michigan against the height of Kentucky.
McGary has played in only eight games this season, and averaged 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. His interior play last season was crucial for Michigan’s run to the title game.
Without McGary, Michigan still thrived all season but has never faced a lineup as tall, and active, as Kentucky.
“We had a plan in place because his injury happened early enough in late August, early September, that we virtually did all of our individuals without him,” Beilein said.
“We had a month of practice without him. When he came back, then we started to work the other plan that we had over the summer. Then he went down again, and we went back to Plan A. So it was a fairly seamless change.”
The Wildcats can throw multiple 6-foot-9, or taller, players at Michigan, which will rely on 6-8 Jordan Morgan and 6-10 Jon Horford.
“[Morgan] is really, really good,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
In way of history
The last time a team reached the Final Four with five freshmen starting was Michigan in 1991.
If Kentucky, which starts five freshmen, can defeat the school that owns that distinction, it would merely be a neat coincidence that doesn’t mean much to these players.
Kentucky’s starting five were not even born when the Fab Five played, but they are aware of that group’s impact on the game.
“They had a bigger impact on the world other than basketball,” Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison said. “No one else does that — start five freshmen.”