Monday, March 8, 2010

So Far Away

Michigan State 64, Michigan 48; 14-16 (7-11)

Dire Straits - So Far Away

Found at

Generally, I err on the side of restraint when it comes to criticizing coaches. Mainly because there is a reason they're on the sidelines coaching and I'm on the sofa watching at home - despite my issues with them at times, they still know a lot more than I do when it comes to coaching a team, no matter the sport.

In this, however...what else is there to say other than John Beilein has had three years, and while reaching the Tournament in year two was of course excellent, the epic disappointment of this year washed away almost all goodwill last year bought? And I don't want to hear about any "parallels" to the football program, either. One, because Rodriguez has had two years compared to Beilein's three (and I'll be having similar sentiments about Rodriguez if he flames out in year three as well), and two, it's actually much easier running a basketball program than it is football. You could say that's just an opinion; I say it's just numbers. 13 scholarships in basketball compared to 85 in football - the variance is much lower, and recruiting is so much bigger in terms of impact. You can take a kid right out of high school, stick him on a basketball court, and he can be a star - see Calipari with Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall. The same does not hold true for football; it's a much, much more complex game. Physical and mental maturity are required, and even if you're the biggest of the big dogs in football recruiting, you are not guaranteed to step onto a college football field and be big shit from day one - see Terrelle Pryor and Jimmy Clausen.

I can envision a scenario where Michigan's defense is improved on the football field in 2010 even with Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren gone. With Greg Robinson taking over the linebackers and safeties, it's not outside the realm of possibility those positions stabilize to an extent, which would allow Michigan to field at least a serviceable defense. In basketball, on the other hand...can you create a scenario where Michigan's basketball team is improved in 2010-2011 without DeShawn Sims and (possibly) Manny Harris? I guess it's possible Blake McLimans and Jordan Morgan are 100% and able to step in and finally provide some size, but where's the scoring going to come from if Manny is gone? Even if Beilein reels in super-recruit Trey Zeigler (and honestly, do you think that's on the sunny side of happening now?), would he be able to step in and star from day one? Possible, but not probable.

It boils down to this: Beilein has failed at two of the fundamental cornerstones of the game of basketball: size and shooting. One of these is not entirely on him. He's had abysmal luck when it comes to the big men - Izzo took away Draymond Green, the NCAA took away Robin Benzing, Ekpe Udoh bolted, Ben Cronin's career is probably over before it began, and Jordan Morgan is injured too. That's five separate players who could've been pounding the glass and working the paint next to DeShawn Sims instead of 6'5, 210-pound Zack Novak, who, bless his heart, is not someone who should be asked to play power forward. Combine those losses with recruiting close-but-no-cigars in 6'8 and top 50 forward Nate Lubick (Georgetown) and 6'10 and top 50ish forward Mason Plumlee (Duke), and you get what we currently have: a woefully undersized Michigan team that gets shredded on the boards and down low with regularity, especially in the Big Ten.

As for the shooting, well, the numbers are right there to look at. One of Beilein's trademarks is 3-point shooting. Michigan's 3-point shooting over the past two seasons:
  • Manny Harris, 08-09: 32.7%; 09-10: 30.1%
  • DeShawn Sims, 08-09: 31.7%; 09-10: 29.0%
  • Zack Novak, 08-09: 34.4%; 09-10: 31.6%
  • Stu Douglass, 08-09: 33.5%; 09-10: 31.3%
  • Laval Lucas-Perry, 08-09: 34.4%; 09-10: 30.2%
  • Anthony Wright, 08-09: 33.3%; 09-10: 23.5%
All six players have shot worse from three this year than they did last year. And four of them (Sims, Novak, Douglass, and LLP) have attempted more threes this year than last (and the only reason Wright didn't is because he finally got benched for being an offensive black hole).

It's as simple as that: The players Beilein brought in to shoot can't shoot. And when your offense relies on jump get a 14-16 record, and the looming possibility of your two best players (whom you inherited and did not recruit yourself) being gone next year. Douglass and Novak are glue players. They're the type that have a spot coming off the bench at major D-1 programs. They're the type a team like Butler or Western Kentucky has and captures the nation's attention with for a couple hours in March. But because of some bad luck, Michigan has had to rely on them far more than they're apparently capable of. Just as Novak is not a power forward, Douglass is not a point guard, let alone a starting one.

So where do we go from here? Just cross our fingers and hope Beilein lands Zeigler, and lands one of Amir Williams or Marshall Plumlee? I'm pleased with some of the pieces he's brought in - I like Vogrich, I think Morris has progressed pretty nicely as the season wound down, I really like Hardaway and Smortycz coming in next year, and Carlton Brundidge in 2011 is a great combo guard, and Michigan liked him better than MSU-bound Brandan Kearney. But is this really a situation conducive to success? Basketball recruiting is an entirely different beast from football recruiting. The list of "three-star sleepers" that have been developed into monsters in football is pretty extensive, because there are so many more aspects to football than basketball, so many different skills, etc. But in basketball, for the most part, things are chalk city when it comes to the rankings. Obviously there are always exceptions, but Michigan's two best players - Harris and Sims - were both high four-star recruits bordering on the edge of five-star status, while players like Douglass and Novak and Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans were middling three-star recruits whose offer sheets were composed almost exclusively of Michigan and a bunch of mid-majors. Does this condemn them to a career of mediocrity? Of course not. But Douglass and Novak certainly looked overmatched in the Big Ten this year. Was it because Beilein was trying to force them into positions they weren't comfortable in, or because they simply aren't the type of talents that can excel against Big Ten powers? You decide.

Beilein, as a person, should be exactly what every Michigan fan (and every fan everywhere, really) wants as their coach. He's a great man who refuses to bend his morals even a little bit. He refuses to delve into the filthy world of AAU coaches getting handouts, family members getting jobs, and all the other gray areas that accompany the majority of basketball recruiting. This leaves a huge chunk of recruits each year off limits to Michigan - and considering UM's past, it has to be that way, anyway. So in that regard, Beilein has no peer. But as a gameday coach, a teacher, and from an Xs and Os standpoint - color me thoroughly underwhelmed. Dave Brandon officially starts his duties as Michigan athletic director today. It's highly unlikely (and would probably be too hasty) that he decides to suddenly fire Beilein. But if you can't draw conclusions about a coach after three years, you absolutely can after four, and I ask again - do you see any scenario where Michigan is substantially improved next season?


EchoWhiskey said...

I think you underestimate the impact of the bigs not working out. The variance is actually higher in basketball. One guy who doesn't work out means so much more in basketball than in football. Given what's happened with recruits and transfers, I think you have to give it more time. I'm not absolving Beilein here, but I do think it's too early to pass judgment.

ShockFX said...

You kind of answer all your questions in your own post.

"Just as Novak is not a power forward, Douglass is not a point guard, let alone a starting one."

"But Douglass and Novak certainly looked overmatched in the Big Ten this year. Was it because Beilein was trying to force them into positions they weren't comfortable in, or because they simply aren't the type of talents that can excel against Big Ten powers? You decide."

I think it's pretty obvious what the deal was. No size. What did you expect?

"So in that regard, Beilein has no peer. But as a gameday coach, a teacher, and from an Xs and Os standpoint - color me thoroughly underwhelmed."
Regardless of whether I think you're wrong or not (I do think you're wrong), who do you propose would do better than Beilien here? His peers rate him extremely highly and he's already delivered a NCAA berth and a win in his 2nd year. Even UNC didn't make the tourney this year, and they have 800x more talent.

Anonymous said...

Running a clean basketball program at a school with 11 years of failure and scandal is a lot harder than running a premier football program coming off ten years of wild success and a NYD bowl win over Florida. Come on, be realistic. More importantly, while Kentucky this year is an exception, young teams (like Michigan) have incredibly high variance: look at Oklahoma, UCLA, and North Carolina, all equally disappointing as Michigan this year.

Rodriguez sunshine blowers have this annoying habit of trying to elevate Rodriguez' "accomplishment" at Michigan by trashing Beilein. It's obnoxious.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I didn't have great expectations this yr b/c we would be w/o a PG, but I did expect to get into the ncaa mostly b/c we got in last yr. But damn, now... I don't see us going back to ncaa for yrs. The team will have to rely on younger and less experienced players next yr. Novak and Stu would be OK if they were coming off bench but they start and are on the court 75% of the time, they can't shoot with consistency and hardly improved.

Thunder said...

I'm not a basketball genius, but I do get the feeling that Michigan might improve without Harris. Harris disappears for long stretches of time and doesn't seem to fit Beilein's offense. While he's a very good player, I don't think he moves well without the ball and he's not always aggressive enough going to the basket. He settles for jumpers when he can take just about anyone off the dribble.

And I know you're not quite passing judgment on Beilein, but I have a hard time criticizing him when (as you said) all of his big men have been injured or what have you. Novak isn't playing the 4 because he's better than our other players on the front line...he's playing there because there's nobody else.