Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tommy Amaker, your "Great hands" man

Michigan is playing in the NIT championship game tonight. Can I have a show of hands of who'll be watching? How about those who care?

No one. I thought so.

Wait! I may have misspoken, Wolverine AD Bill Martin will be happily watching. He's quoted in today's Detroit News saying the program is in "Great hands." Not good, but grrrrrreat! Has he been watching the same team we all have over the last 6 weeks? The same team that laid a MASSIVE egg and squandered an almost locked in stone NCAA berth?

"There's no question I really think the program's in great hands with Tommy," Martin said. "I'm a huge Tommy Amaker fan. I think we've made great progress. We started 16-3 this year and we were well on our way this year to an incredible season when he started having injuries and things didn't work out. Tommy never made excuses and I admire that about him."

From reading that quote, Amaker doesn't have to make excuses, as that job belongs to Bill Martin. Injuries? Sure, but nearly every team, save the freakishly injury free Detroit Pistons (knock on wood), have to deal with injuries. Who wouldn't be happy with a 16-3 start, but do you remember their out of confrence slate? It was one that Tom Izzo would have been ashamed of scheduling. Nothing but a bunch of pushovers, cupcakes, wannabes, never-weres, and 2 schools that actualy play in power confrences. They were 1-1 against those legit D1 teams, beating Notre Dame (Who treats hoop the same way Michigan does, as a bothersome delinquent middle child as compared to the perfect #1 child that is football) and losing to UCLA.

During the out of confrence schedule, Michigan beat whom they were supposed to beat, as any team playing lower division mid-majors should. Unfortunately, they couldn't make hay where they had to, in the suddenly not quite so formidible looking Big Ten. Going 3-6 against ranked Big Ten teams isn't going to cut it.

Because of Michigan's down the stretch gag, not even their out of character win against the Illini could rescue the Wolverines from the NIT. There were those 3 huge losses down the stretch that sticks in every Michigan fan's craw and the NCAA committee held against them, deservedly, with extreme predudice. Getting blown out by Purdue, the choke job against Indiana, and the awful awful awful Minnesota game in the Big Ten tournament. Win one of those, you are probably in the NCAA's. Win 2, and you're a lock. Instead of coming up clutch, Amaker's team folded like your mom's rickety card table. Yet, Martin thinks the basketball program is in "Great hands."

Consider what Amaker's previous employer, Seton Hall, thought about the direction of their basketball program. In 5 years, Seton Hall head coach Louis Orr went 80-69, 3 over .500 seasons, with 1 NIT appearance and 2 NCAA berths. After going 18-12 this season and a one and done in the NCAA's, Seton Hall thought it was best to move on, and gave Orr the ziggy. Amker, since leaving Seton Hall with a very similar record to Orr's (Amaker averaged a 17-13 record over 4 years, to Orr's 16-13 in 5), has a 86-70 record at Michigan, 3 over .500 seasons, with 2 NIT appearances, winning 1. From what Michigan basketball standards look to be, a performance like Orr's would have gained Amaker a multi year contract extension.

Think about it, Llllloyd Carr has a similar season to Amaker's and Michigan fans are srceaming for his cranky ass head on a platter. To his credit, Carr is making changes. But expect the status quo in the basketball program, as that kind of season means hoop is in "Great Hands."

Despite what Martin would have you believe, winning (assuming a victory tonight) 2 NIT championships in a 3 year span doesn't show me that Amaker can rally the troops after crushing disappointment in not making the only tournament that fans care about. What it does show me is that Amaker's program isn't nearly good enough. Unless beating mid-majors, rarely winning big games, and NIT #1 seeds get you all tingly...

Michigan needs to do several things. Upgrade the facilities on a par with football, somehow get the fanbase fired up again over the basketball program, and make the basketball head coach more than the just the annoying little brother to Llllloyd Carr. To do all that, Michigan needs a coach that doesn't look upon the gig as a stepping stone. Michigan also needs to treat the head coaching position as a final destination for an established coach.

Look at the Michigan head coaches previous to Amaker. Johhny Orr (took Michigan to the '76 NCAA championship game) and Bill Frieder (A great recruiter who won a ton of games, even if he was too much of a loose cannon for Michigan's taste) were tired of being treated as the redheaded step children of the athletic department. Steve Fisher (A Frieder clone, just not nearly as eccentric) was a lucky SOB who was in the right place at the right time. Brian Ellerbee just happened to be hanging around the gym.

Too bad Rick Pitino, who was rumored to be very interested in the Michigan gig after the Ellerbe fiasco to end all fiascos, wasn't considered a good "Fit" for the Wolverines. Pitino could have taken Michigan to the next level with the fanbase, been instrumental in attacting money for upgrading the facilities, and would have put the basketball job at the level of the football gig. Lord God Bo wouldn't have cared for that, so rather than shoot for the moon with Pitino, the Wolverines took the conservative route instead, hiring the "Great Hands" of Duke pedigreed Amaker.

Michigan thought they would become Duke of the north, and were getting the next "Coach K" in Amaker. Instead, they got a mediocore coach who has devoloped a mediocore program. But not to worry, as Michigan hoops are in "Great hands."

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