Harrington's Season in Review columns
Season in Review
Key Stats: 8.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 56.4 FG%, 73.9 FT%, 0-0 3FG%
Maverick Morgan had a bit of a surprise junior season for the Illini. During the first half of the season, he wasn't much of a factor -- most of it playing behind Mike Thorne and Michael Finke -- other than a few games when he hit double figures in scoring. However, during the final third of the season, he took a big leap. During the last 12 games, Morgan averaged 12.0 points and 5.4 rebounds. During this stretch, Morgan gained consistency. He shot higher than 50 percent from the floor in all but three of those games. Last month, I broke down six reasons for his offensive success. He also showed a lot more confidence during this stretch -- maybe the most important step for him. He gained this confidence by playing to his abilities and not trying to do things outside of his skill set and comfort zone. His finish gave Illini fans some reason to believe that his senior year could be a good one.
Morgan scored a majority of his points in four main areas. To have a good senior year, he needs to work on these scoring options and try to perfect hem. He shouldn't take time away from these scoring options by trying to add new elements to his offensive game. His first area is on the block. Morgan showed good patience and footwork on post-up moves. He has two of them. One is the righty hook over the left shoulder. His second is the counter move over the right shoulder, a turn-around jumper. These two moves need to be worked on all offseason. He needs to work both sides of the blocks. Morgan should work on catching and backing his way into these moves and should work on catching and going right into these moves. Having just two go-to moves on the block makes you a post threat. If he can perfect these moves, other teams will have to post-trap him which will open up the perimeter game for the Illini.
Next, Morgan needs to work on his elbow jumpers when he escapes from the post on guard dribble drives. By doing this over and over, he will create muscle memory and be a great mid-range shooter -- giving his guards a passing option they trust.
Another spot Morgan found success is the pick-and-pop shot after wing ball screens. Again, working on setting a screen and popping to the elbow or baseline will create muscle memory. By making these shots, it will put a lot of pressure on the defense to pick their poison: Morgan or the wings. Out of these moves, Morgan can work on diving and finishing at the rim as well.
Lastly, Morgan must do a lot of heavy-ball circuits around the rim. This will help his explosiveness. He must improve his ability to finish at the rim on offensive rebounds and dives. He must work on going right up to the rim without having to gather himself first.
Morgan might be the most important player on the team this offseason. With the uncertainty of Thorne and Leron Black, the post position could rely a lot on Morgan. He more than tripled his scoring output from his sophomore year to junior year. That won’t happen again, but the Illini will need him to be close to a double-figure scorer while bringing in five-plus rebounds per game next season -- just like he did over the final 12-game stretch. Morgan has been a high-percentage shooter in two of his three seasons. Next year that percentage needs to be right around 60 percent. Morgan should also find himself at the foul line 60 plus times next season (compared to 46 last season). In order for the Illini to be consistent next year, they will need some consistent post play. Morgan is the most likely player -- and possibly the only one -- who can offer that to Illinois.
Sean Harrington is the basketball analyst for IlliniInquirer.com and also serves as a color analyst for ESPN. He played for four NCAA Tournament teams at Illinois, from 1999-2002. He also served on coaching staffs for Rick Majerus, Bill Self, Rob Judson and Bruce Weber. Follow him on Twitter @smharrington24.