During the offseason, I surveyed Michigan's roster and came away with this:
I have long bemoaned the death of the John Beilein-led Wolverines, but I can think of no clearer symbol of, well, utter failure than in his fourth year to have only 1/3 of the team entering the season with any game experience at all, one of whom averaged only 5.5 minutes per game in his freshman season--and let's note that a) Beilein isn't recruiting one-and-dones; b) he didn't necessarily take over a program chocked full of upper classmen; and c) it's not like the team succeeded last year and graduated their talent a la UNC 2009.I, like most of the Michigan blogosphere, was pleasantly surprised with the progress the team appeared to make early in the season. Darius Morris was turning into an outstanding point guard, the young players on the team we overachieving, and most surprisingly, Michigan's man-to-man defense was unflappable. But demoralizing losses to Northwestern (by 14) and Indiana (by 19) and it becomes clear that, though Michigan's early success wasn't a mirage, it was largely the function of a weaker schedule.
As Dylan at UMHoops says, this is a rebuilding year, but is that even acceptable in the fourth year of the program? The four game-experienced players Michigan has returning combined for 30.59% of the team's scoring last year... The rest of Michigan's team now is inexperienced and undersized (mostly), and is going find themselves led by Novak and Douglass as the team's returning "veterans".
I trust Beilein, or at least I'm trying to. He took the team to the Tournament in his second season and should be awarded some sort of leniency for that, but it's difficult not to look at the current state of the program and think it's headed downward. One bad break (Ben Cronin) and one early departure (Manny) should not send an entire program into a tailspin of crippling youth and, let's face it, mediocre players, but they have. If Rich Rodriguez didn't exist, Beilein would be feeling a lot more heat for this, but Michigan will always and forever be a football school. I'm about at the end of my rope with Beilein. If we don't see anything this year, you can expect me to be leading the torch and pitchfork crew into Crisler.
People will point to close losses to Syracuse, Ohio State, and Purdue as signs of progress, but college basketball is a game that offers a lot of parity--because of a long shot clock and a shortened game, there are less opportunities for both teams to score resulting in lower scoring games and lower differentials. And where there is parity, there are bound to be close games. In Amaker's final year, Michigan had a four-point loss to #1 Ohio State. In the 03-04 season, Michigan had a close loss to a ranked MSU team and a win over #17 NC State. Even Indiana gave Minnesota and Wisconsin runs for their money in the last few weeks.
The point is, close losses to good programs are not something to build your program on. The more telling games are blowouts to UTEP and Indiana. Michigan is still a team that's capable of losing to bad teams on a frequent basis, but that also has the talent to play with (and occasionally upset) a high-ranked team. This is what Beilein has built in his fourth year.
|Amaker Players||Beilein Players|
|CJ Lee||Zack Novak|
|Anthony Wright||Stu Douglass|
|David Merritt||Corey Person|
|Jevohn Shepherd||Laval Lucas-Perry|
|Eric Puls||Ben Cronin|
|Zach Gibson||Kelvin Grady|
Since that season, and the subsequent graduation/flight of Amaker's players, we've watched the team make a precipitous drop down the Big Ten and once again out of the national spotlight. Beilein has almost completely abandoned the schemes and styles that made him a successful coach to begin with (1-3-1 defense and a three-point shooting offense) because the players he recruited either can't shoot as well as he had hoped or don't understand the defense under which they're playing (or both). So as Michigan plummets toward the bottom of the Big Ten, I have to wonder how much longer people are going to endure at best mediocrity and at worst utter failure.
What Dave Brandon does in the coming months will be interesting. During the Rich Rodriguez debacle, he said that with all coaches, he would wait until the end of the season and judge things accordingly. He then threw his support behind Beilein before the season had started. But if Rodriguez gets the axe after only three years with a roster that's comparably young to the basketball team, you'd have to imagine that Beilein is also seriously on the hot seat. And he doesn't have one of the nation's best offenses (or defenses) to fall back on.