Ann Arborites are finally thawing out after an epic winter of discontent, but the month of April proved to be something of a Big Chill as well (Mitch McGary, we hardly knew ye).
No one would choose to relive another polar vortex or arctic blast, but it’s hard not to draw a parallel between Snowmageddon and the deep freeze settling around the Michigan Wolverines basketball team.
After a tough loss to Kentucky in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament, the dominoes started falling. On April 10, backup big man Jon Horford announced his intention to transfer, likely anticipating an understudy role to Mitch McGary.
On April 15, a confirmation of what most Michigan fans and pundits already knew: top scorers Nik Stauskas (17.5 PPG) and Glenn Robinson III (13.1 PPG) were declaring for the NBA Draft. While tough pills to swallow, the loss of Stauskas and Robinson III were anticipated and despite being something of a valued senior, the loss of Horford wouldn’t be devastating.
But on April 25, a cruel and unusual blow was dealt to a program that has seen its fortunes change since John Beilein took over the helm in 2007.
The announcement of Mitch McGary’s year suspension after a positive marijuana test and subsequent declaration for the NBA Draft effectively put an end to the incredible momentum Beilein has built in back-to-back campaigns (a loss to Louisville in the NCAA Final in 2013 and a Big Ten regular season title and Elite Eight appearance in 2014).
While Beilein proved to be a masterful coach in 2013-2014 after losing his two best players to the 2013 NBA Draft (Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr.), losing three potential starters, senior Jordan Morgan to graduation and another key contributor (Horford) could severely hinder the program’s development. Junior Caris LeVert will be a key returning piece, but the loss of McGary is brutal, especially for a backcourt-heavy team predicated on perimeter play.
While McGary's violation pales in comparison to penalties the program incurred as a result of the Ed Martin scandal, one can't help but revisit that decade of shame and futility (1998-2008)—an era that saw banners removed from Crisler Arena, scholarships reduced, a two-year postseason ban and an 11-year absence from the Big Dance.
Michigan has a pair of four-star recruits in incoming freshmen D.J. Wilson (6'8", Sacramento, Capital Christian) and Kameron Chatman (6'7", Portland, OR, Columbia Christian) but Beilein will need all of his coaching sorcery to compete in the Big Ten next season. A fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance is perhaps in doubt.
Jack’s Hardware is well-known in Ann Arbor for its pithy signage. In late April, the marquee read simply: Worst Winter Ever. For Michigan basketball fans, it might have been the worst April ever.