Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What's happened to Michigan basketball? Everything...

I was able to watch a fair amount of the Michigan basketball team getting their asses kicked by the Hoosiers 78-64 on the 4 letter last night, in a game that was even worse than the 14 point spread would have you think. It was another in a series of embarrassing losses for new coach John Beilein. With a piss poor W-L record of 4-11, they'll be damn lucky to win 10 games this season.

Today, on talk radio, in the fishwraps, and on the internets, people are beginning to ask, "What's happened to Michigan basketball?"

Three things.

1. 10 years of Brian Ellerbe, then Tommy Amaker, running the Wolverine program into the ground.

2. After the "Ed Martin Scandal," the Michigan Mafia is happy with hoops being a second class sport, just keeping their nose clean is fine and dandy.

3. Tom Izzo.

It's beyond obvious that Amaker left the cupboards bare. The Wolverines have only a handful of major conference players, with the remainder of the team being made up with kids who should be playing at a much smaller school in a mid-major (at best) conference, and bench warming walk-ons who should never see the floor.

Unfortunately, that has Beilein in literally a no-win situation. You aren't going to make the NIT, let alone be competitive in the Big 10, with a roster made up of Amaker's recruiting mistakes.

Despite what the unbelievably biased, and not coincidentally, Amaker's BFF, Duke douchebag Jay Bilas, would have you think, the current ugliness going on at Crisler Arena is not Beilein's fault. He was given a forgotten program that is as close to rock bottom as you can get, with a roster full of players who are incapable of running his offense. An offense that has worked at every stop of Beilein's career...Till now.

Last night was proof that Beilein's offense should work, and will work, if given the right players. The open shots were there, Michigan just couldn't hit them. The lack of scoring has been an ongoing issue all season, as Beilein's players couldn't throw a ball in Lake Superior if they were standing neck deep in it.

There's always the Tom Izzo factor as well. Izzo is Sparty's Bo Schembechler. A dominant coach who overshadows everything and everyone at the other in-state Big 10 school.

1 1/2 hours up the road from Ann Arbor, you have an MSU program that is a national power, one of the elite college basketball programs, led by a coach that's on track to make the basketball hall of fame. Any coach taking over the Wolverines would have their work cut out for them, attempting to compete with the human dynamo that is Tom Izzo. Beilein's a good coach. He'll win, eventually. But he's not Izzo.

Sure, a few years down the line, Beilein may have a Michigan team that will beat MSU, and finish higher in the Big 10 standings. But he won't be able to do it consistently. It's damn similar to the situation MSU football finds themselves in, as the "little brother" to U of M football. They'll might beat Michigan a couple times a decade, but they'll never find themselves on an even playing field with the Wolverines. Not anytime soon, anyway.

If you were a talented Michigan high school player, where would you rather play?

Michigan: An outdated arena, no practice facility, an apathetic fanbase who, more than anything else, wants the hoops program to stay out of trouble, the NCAA tournament only a rumor, a program who's most glorious part of their history has been wiped clean from the record books, always the court jester to the undisputed king of Wolverines sports, football.

Michigan State: A state of the art arena and practice facility, the most enthusiastic fanbase this side of Durham, making the NCAA's is a given, a top 25 ranking is a given (Lower than 10 being a disappointing season), making a Final Four run every couple of seasons is a given, winning 20 games is a given, the king of MSU sports.

You want to win, and win big? Play in games of national importance? Have Dick Vitale gush all over you? You are going to play for Izzo. You just want to play immediately? You might go Michigan, if the 5 other schools you want to play for, all in the MAC or Horizon League, don't offer you a scholarship.

I might be exaggerating, but not all that much. That's how far Wolverines basketball has fallen. They are competitive with the Oakland U's of the world. Hell, if I was to bet, I'd put my money on OU...

I'm willing to give Beilein a free pass on this season. He was thrown into a bad situation, one that is going to require patience, and a little luck, to turn around. My guess? If all goes well (and that's NOT a given), Michigan is 2 seasons away from being an upper division Big 10 team. a first round knockout as the 11 seed in the Big 10 tournament this season, then NIT bound next year, finally making a legitimate run at the NCAA's in the '08-'09 season.

When you let the once great basketball program crash and burn for over a decade, you have to put up with the painful process of rebuilding as well.


  1. I can't agree with your optimistic assessment. If a coach, in this case Bielein, doesn't believe that rebounding and defense are important then he isn't going to win in the Big Ten. If he can't see that the reason his players aren't shooting well is because the opponents are playing defense--something that seems to be only a mild suggestion at Crisler, his success will be limited. The idea that he can win with that junk defense, the 1-3-1 after made baskets, is absurd. I think he is in way over his head in the Big Ten, but a good fit at UM because hoops wise UM is the Big Ten's equivalent of Longwood or New Jersey Tech. His team peaked three years ago with an Elite 8 finish, then headed downhill to the NIT last year. Now, Huggins has WVU playing defense and they're winning again. IF UM really wanted to compete they would have gone after Tom Crean or Brian Gregory or John Thompson III. I would not be surprised to see Manny Harris redshirting at Kansas next year given the current rate of improvement in his teammates.

  2. "The open shots were there, Michigan just couldn't hit them."

    I think that sums up Michigan basketball's struggles pretty well. Beilein's offense is working in terms of getting good looks at the basket. He just doesn't have anyone who can consistently knock down the three-pointer. A long-range gunner or two would help immensely. (Why did you leave, Reed Baker?!?)

    I think it's too early to reach judgment on Beilein, though I also think his honeymoon will be shorter than he may have been led to believe. His recruiting classes will probably always look inferior compared to Izzo's, but if he gets his types of players, things should turn around.

  3. What I can't understand is how Amaker got a free pass for so long, yet the media is already questioning Bielein. This program is in shambles and there's no way it will turn around in a year or two.