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Drew’s Mailbag: McGary’s decision, 2014-15 preseason rankings

April 22nd, 2014 by Drew Hallett


Today is the first installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run every two weeks throughout the offseason, answering any questions you may have regarding Michigan athletics. You can submit your questions to Drew on Twitter (@DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com). 

What is your gut feeling about [Nik] Stauskas, [Glenn Robinson III], and [Mitch] McGary’s NBA decisions? – NMT21 (@NMT21)

Let’s start with the obvious: this question is dated. It was sent to me on April 9, 2014, one day before any reports had surfaced about whether any of Michigan’s players would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, I discarded this as a question for my inaugural mailbag because I assumed all three of Stauskas, Robinson III, and McGary would have decided by now. However, although Stauskas and Robinson III have announced officially that they will enter the NBA Draft, McGary has yet to make his final decision. The deadline to declare is only five days away, so I think this is the perfect space to provide my thoughts on McGary’s decision.

First and foremost, this is McGary’s decision. He knows where his interests lie and has gathered all of the information he can from NBA executives and scouts. No one is more informed to make this decision than McGary. He certainly is more informed than me. With that said, I am going to address what I think are the pros and cons of McGary’s options and what I think he will decided by week’s end. What I will not do is tell McGary what he should decide. This is his decision. Not mine. I am in no place to criticize what McGary thinks is best for himself, his family, and his career.

If McGary chooses to follow Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA, he has been projected as a late first-round or second-round pick. SI’s Chris Mannix is the most optimistic, projecting McGary to be selected with the 26th pick by the Miami Heat. Draft Express currently has McGary going with the last pick in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. ESPN’s Chad Ford projects McGary as a late first-round pick, but does not include him in his latest top-30 Big Board or the next five in ($). And CBS Sports’ Matt Moore is the most pessimistic, penciling McGary to be selected with the eighth pick in the second round by the Detroit Pistons.

McGary is projected at the end of the first round by most experts (MGoBlue.com)

McGary is projected to be drafted at the end of the first round by most experts (MGoBlue.com)

The range of these projections is a concern for McGary. Whether a player is a first- or second-round pick has significant ramifications. First-round selections are guaranteed a contract. Second-round selections are not and can have their rights waived before ever signing a contract with the team that drafted them. There have been many second-round picks that did not make an NBA roster the season they were drafted. This is why many generally feel that players should return to school unless they are projected to be a solid first-round pick. Generally.

McGary is in a unique situation, though. After an incredible 2013 NCAA Tournament as a freshman, he was projected as a late lottery pick in last year’s draft. Nonetheless, he decided to return to Michigan. McGary then saw his draft stock drop his sophomore season not because of a decline in performance, but because of a lower-back injury that forced him to miss most of the year. There have been recent reports that McGary “is well on his way to being healthy.” If he can show NBA executives in workouts that he has returned to 2013 NCAA Tournament form, his stock would soar back into the first round. But, if not, red flags may be raised that cause McGary to fall into the dreaded second round.

Conversely, if McGary decides to return to Michigan for his junior season, he likely would be one of the best players in the Big Ten, if not the nation. It would provide McGary more time to show NBA executives and scouts that he once again can play at the level he did at the end of his freshman season than draft workouts would. McGary also would have the opportunity to prove to NBA management that he no longer has lower-back issues and can be a full-time starter for a college season. Plus, with the 2015 draft class expected to be weaker than this year’s stacked class, a strong junior season from McGary realistically could see him back in the lottery for the 2015 NBA Draft.

However, there certainly are risks to staying in school. The first is McGary reinjuring himself. The NBA is has become extremely wary of big men that are injury-prone. Another serious injury may indicate to the NBA that McGary is not a player that can endure a full 82-game season or a long NBA career. Another injury would cause McGary’s stock to plummet. The second risk is age. If McGary returns, he would be 23 years old before the 2015 NBA Draft. The NBA loves to draft potential. Unfortunately, NBA executives likely will think that a 23-year-old McGary has little of it left. This could hinder a rise in McGary’s draft stock even with a strong junior season.

And, of course, another season at Michigan is another season during which he does not earn an income for his talent on the hardwood. With how short professional basketball careers are relative to other occupations, McGary may not want to lose one of few valuable years to earn a seven-digit salary to play a sport he loves.

My gut feeling tells me that McGary will declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. Some may feel the opposite because McGary has delayed his decision this long and well after Stauskas and Robinson III made their decisions official. But John Beilein, Caris LeVert, and Spike Albrecht each recently made comments about next year’s team and forgot to include McGary. Plus, there are other things I have heard – nothing concrete – that indicate McGary might be leaving. Either way, as I said earlier, this is McGary’s decision. Michigan fans should respect his decision and support McGary whether he plays at Michigan or in the NBA next season.

Have both the [Michigan] football and basketball teams started the season unranked in the same year? – Will (@Goblue_1211)

Yes, there have been times when both Michigan football and basketball were unranked in the preseason during the same athletic year. It has happened 16 times since the Associated Press (AP) first released a preseason poll for both football and basketball in 1948-49. Fourteen of those times occurred from 1948-49 to 1969-1970 when the AP poll listed only 20 schools. But it has been a rare occurrence since Bo Schembechler made his mark on the Michigan football program.

From 1970-71 to 2007-08, it never happened. Only once during that span was Michigan football not ranked in the preseason AP poll (1985-86), but Michigan basketball was preseason No. 3 that year. Since Lloyd Carr’s retirement, it has happened twice: 2008-09 and 2010-11. However, Michigan basketball found its mojo in the second half of the 2010-11 season and has been listed in the preseason AP poll each year since then.

But let’s get to why this question was sent to me. Will sent this question when it became known that both Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III would declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. At the time, there was – and still is – uncertainty if Mitch McGary also would leave Michigan for the NBA. Will seems to be concerned – and if not concerned, then at least curious – that neither Michigan football nor basketball will be ranked in next season’s preseason AP polls. Will’s concern is not unfounded.

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan won't begin the 2014-15 season unranked (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

With Irvin and LeVert back, it is unlikely that Michigan will begin the 2014-15 season unranked even if McGary goes pro (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

It is very unlikely that Michigan football will be ranked in the preseason AP poll this upcoming season. The Wolverines finished the previous season with a 7-6 record and lost five of their final six games. Yes, there are some circumstances where the AP will rank a team in the preseason following such a year. But those circumstances do not apply to Michigan. The Wolverines have more questions than answers right now. How quickly will Michigan learn and execute new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new schemes? Will Michigan’s young offensive line, which allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the nation in 2013, improve despite losing two NFL-caliber offensive tackles? Will Michigan finally have an effective running game? How will Michigan’s defense adapt to the transition from the 4-3 under to the 4-3 over? Can Michigan beat its first ranked opponent on the road under Brady Hoke? I could go on and on.

This is not to say that Michigan football is doomed for the 2014 season. Michigan certainly has the talent and pieces to put together a successful campaign. But Michigan needs to answer these questions on the gridiron first before the media begins to respect the Wolverines. Don’t believe me? None of CBS Sports’ Jerry Hinnen, Bleacher Report’s Brian Pedersen, USA Today’s Paul Myerberg, or SI’s Martin Rickman place Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014. The only such list that does is ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, who ranks Michigan at No. 21. The most likely scenario is that Michigan will be sitting outside the top 25 in the preseason AP poll, likely between No. 30 and No. 35.

Nonetheless, I do not believe that the 2014-15 season will be the 17th time that both Michigan football and basketball begin their respective seasons unranked. I expect Michigan basketball to be listed in the preseason AP poll for the fourth consecutive year this upcoming season. I also expect this to happen even if McGary follows Stauskas and Robinson III to the NBA. Michigan has been one of the best programs in the nation the past three seasons, winning two Big Ten titles and appearing in two Elite Eights. It is rare for a program with these accomplishments to be unranked the following season, even if most of the core players have departed for the NBA.

Michigan returns plenty of talent, too. Caris LeVert was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten, if not the nation, last season and was named to the All-Big Ten second team. Although LeVert cannot be expected to make a similar leap next year like he did this past year, look for him to contend for the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player honor. There is also Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin – talented players who executed their roles perfectly as freshmen. Both will receive additional touches as sophomores with more of the offensive burden falling on them.

Given John Beilein’s track record for developing freshmen, both Walton, Jr. and Irvin have been listed by media outlets as players who will break out next season. Plus, there have been rave reviews about big man Mark Donnal in practice, and Michigan adds top-30 recruit in Kameron Chatman. There will be no deficiency of talent in Ann Arbor next season.

The media agrees, too. All of NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan, Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore, USA Today’s Scott Gleeson, and SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford list Michigan in their Way-Too-Early Top-25 rankings for 2014-15. The range of where Michigan lands on these lists is wide. Some have Michigan in the top 10. Most have Michigan around No. 20. Where U-M is ranked on each depends on how many Wolverines the writer assumed were declaring for the NBA Draft. The only media outlet that did not place Michigan on such a list is CBS Sports. But this likely is just an outlier. If McGary declares for the NBA Draft, I would expect Michigan to be ranked between No. 20 and No. 25 in the preseason AP poll. If McGary returns, there is little doubt that the Wolverines would find themselves in the top 20 in the preseason.

If you have any questions related to Michigan athletics that you want answered in the next mailbag, please tweet them to @DrewCHallett on Twitter or email them to drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com.