Michigan Basketball: Bump in the Road, or Nosedive?

John Beilein isn't the only one who can't bear to watch Michigan right now.

I’ll admit, before launching into this diatribe, that I did not watch a single minute of yesterday’s loss to Michigan State. In fairness, I was driving home from Canada for the first half, and by the time I got home — well, 14 first-half points didn’t exactly inspire me to flip on CBS instead of unpacking. It’s not hard to imagine, however, how the game played out: Michigan State completely overmatched Michigan inside, and the Wolverines couldn’t hit their shots. A quick check of the recap confirms. Now Michigan sits at 14-16, and if they can beat Iowa in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament, their season will almost certainly end against Ohio State in the next round.

John Beilein has, thus far in his Michigan career, avoided much criticism. This is in large part because, until this season, his team was progressing ahead of schedule: sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this very team made the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. This season, the controversy surrounding Rich Rodriguez and the football team has deflected a lot of attention away from the floundering basketball program. Games like yesterday’s, however, have caused Michigan fans to ask again a question we thought Beilein had answered with a resounding ‘yes’ last season: is he the right man for this job? Over at Genuinely Sarcastic, Brian takes stock of the program and finishes with a disturbing question:

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?

Even if Manny Harris returns, and the Wolverines land Trey Zeigler and Jon Horford, can this team overcome the loss of DeShawn Sims, the one viable post player on this team? Even Michigan fans with the most rose-tinted glasses of all will have a hard time saying yes. With Sims and Zack Gibson graduating, the Wolverines are left with just two returning redshirt freshmen bigs with huge question marks — Blake McLimans, a perimeter-oriented forward who wasn’t physically ready for Big Ten basketball this season, and Jordan Morgan, who sat out this season with a knee injury and just this week injured his shoulder. In a perfect world, neither of these guys would be forced to take on big-time minutes next season. As we keep getting reminded, this world isn’t perfect, and both will be forced into major playing time unless Evan Smotrycz and Jon Horford (assuming we have room for him and he commits) can both come in and contribute from day one.

I’m not holding my breath.

As Brian points out in his article, much of the blame for Michigan’s lack of viable big men can be placed simply on bad luck: Epke Udoh transferring was a bigger deal than anyone thought at the time, Draymond Green was wooed by Tom Izzo (and who can blame him?), Ben Cronin had a career-ending hip injury, Robin Benzing couldn’t qualify, and Morgan’s aforementioned knee injury kept him from getting valuable experience this season. This is how you end up with Zack Novak at the four.

That said, next season will be Beilein’s fourth, and there’s a very good chance we’ll be looking at consecutive losing seasons and another rebuilding project when 2010-11 is over. The pieces may be coming into place for a successful team: Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway are good prospects that fit Beilein’s system well, 2011 commit Carlton Brundidge is a blue-chip player, Darius Morris has made great progress this season, and Michigan has a shot at adding some big-time recruits. The hole in the middle can’t be fixed immediately, however, and unless this team turns into a three-point juggernaut — I’ll be kind and say this year’s performance makes that sound unlikely — we will be fielding a very flawed team next season.

Patience is key when rooting for a rebuilding program. Michigan fans are getting very used to being patient by now. But when does patience become a flaw, instead of a virtue? I wish I had the answer, but I don’t know. It’s Dave Brandon’s first day as the official athletic director, and I can’t say I envy him one bit.

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3 comments
  1. Lynette Gascoigne said:

    Jordan Morgan did not tear his ACL, he microfractured his femoral head.

    Also Blake McLimans name was misspelled.

  2. Ace Anbender said:

    Whoops — thanks for the heads up. My brain is clearly still on vacation.

  3. Dan Pelekoudas said:

    Pretty good outline of next season’s team. I doubt that McLimans will contribute much next year, hopefully Smotrycz is as good as advertised. If Manny leaves, it will be a disastrous season.

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