After defeating the Illinois Fighting Illini on Tuesday, the Michigan Wolverines made it official as they won their first outright Big Ten Title in 28 years. That’s saying a lot considering the fact that plenty of fans and experts stated earlier this season that the Wolverines may not be able to win the Big Ten. However, just like last year, the Wolverines continue to beat the odds and prove the doubters wrong. While many fans love to acknowledge the great play of the players like Nik Stauskas, Derrick Walton Jr, and etc., I think a lot of the credit needs to go to head coach John Beilein.
This season, Beiline has proved once again that he is one of the better coaches in college basketball and there is no doubt that he is the number one candidate for Big Ten Coach of the Year. This season, he walked into a tough situation, having to replace stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the lineup, all while losing Mitch McGary for the season to a back injury, yet through all of that, the Wolverine continued to persevere and play good basketball. Due to Beilein’s coaching and the great play of the team, the Wolverines were able to earn seven tough road wins, including victories at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, while only suffering one loss at home.
Let’s be honest, since being hired as the head coach of the Wolverines back in 2007, Beilein has a done a wonderful job with this team, despite expectations that he wouldn’t do much for the Wolverines. Let’s not forget that Beilein didn’t come into the best situation here at Michigan. He replaced Tommy Amaker, who was fired after failing to reach the NCAA Tournament in his six seasons, so Beilein inherited a Big Ten Conference team that was in the final year of a scholarship reduction due to the involvement of former players in the Ed Martin scandal, in which NCAA rules had been violated.
Due to those issues, the Wolverines struggled, as they finished with a 10–22 overall record (5–13 Big Ten record) during the 2007–08 season. Then in the 2008–09 season, Beilein and the Wolverines once again struggled but his program and system started to show moments of growth as the Wolverines enjoyed multiple victories over top teams like UCLA, Duke, which led to the Wolverines reaching the top 25 in the national rankings which was their first appearance since 2006. As the season went on the Wolverines defeated the #16-ranked Purdue. In that same season, Michigan was given a seven seed in the 2009 Big Ten Tournament which led to a bid to the 2009 NCAA Tournament, which marked the school’s first appearance in 11 years. They didn’t do much in the NCAA Tournament, but it marked an important moment for Beilein’s program.
With that, many fans figured 2008-09 season success would follow into next season but they were unfortunately disappointed as the Wolverines finished 15–17 and did not appear in the postseason for the 2008-09 season. Due to that poor showing, many fans even called for Beilein to be fired but Beilein would be offered a contract extension which he signed, extending his original contract to 2016. As always, there were plenty of fans and even experts who didn’t agree with this decision but it was in this moment that Beilein’s program and system would begin to grow.
During the 2010–11 season, the Wolverines did not have one senior on the roster and due to that fact, the Wolverines were not expected to be very successful. While they did have their struggles that season, they also had moments of success. The Wolverines defeated the Michigan State Spartans twice that season, which was marked as first season the Wolverines were able to sweep the Spartans in 14 years. Plus the victory at Michigan State was Michigan’s first since 1997. It was also in this season that the Wolverines earned a #8 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, where they defeated Tennessee, establishing two NCAA Tournament records: the largest victory margin by an eight seed, and becoming the first team to ever win a tournament game without making a free throw.In the next round the Wolverines lost to #1-seeded Duke, but they played a great game, as they lost to Duke with a close final score of 73-71.
Since then, the Wolverines have been on a non-stop track to becoming one of the best college basketball teams in the country. During the 2011–12 season they began the season ranked in the top 25, and remained there all season. They finished with a 24–10 overall record and 13–5 Big Ten record, winning a share of the regular-season Big Ten championship for the first time since the 1985–86 team.
The most memorable season to date is the 2012–13 season. The same season in which Beilein achieved multiple achievements: 650th win as a college basketball head coach, 100th win as head coach at Michigan, 400th Division I win as a head coach and his best career start. The 400th win came on a night when Michigan achieved its 16th straight victory which tied the school record for best start. The Wolverines went on to record its first 19–1 start to a season in school history. In the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the fourth-seeded Wolverines defeated South Dakota State, Virginia Commonwealth and top-seeded Kansas before defeating third-seeded Florida to send the Wolverines to the Final Four for the first time since 1993.
In the 2013 Final Four, the Wolverines defeated East region champion Syracuse to advance to the national championship game against Louisville, where they eventually lost. However, despite the loss to Louisville, no one could deny the accomplishments of this Wolverines team and it’s coaching staff. Which led to Beilein signing a second contract extension during the off-season.
Keep in mind, it’s not just about breaking down Beilein’s journey through stats, accolades and milestones. The main thing that Beilein has done well that nobody seems to acknowledge is develop. Over the last few years, Beilein has developed plenty of players. Just look at this season, look at the development of sophomore Caris LeVert and freshman Derrick Walton Jr. Due to his great coaching and development, both players have helped pick up the pace for the Wolverines this season. I believe due to the guidance and confidence of Beiline and Nik Stauskas’s hard work, Stauskas has developed into a rising star this season.
Even role players like Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, who have had an underrated season have benefited from Beilein’s coaching. A lot of people say Morgan isn’t a great player and they may be right but due to Beilein and the rest of his coaching staff, Morgan has found a role on this team that allows him to succeed and lead all while helping the team at the same time.
When it comes to Beilein’s offensive system it may not be the most well-known or even the most well-respected system but his system emphasizes constant motion, passing, back-door cuts, discipline, teamwork and consistent shooting. It’s because of that system and his great coaching that players have developed in the way that they have. Most importantly, he plays to the strengths to of his players, while helping to improve their weaknesses. He seems to have found the “fine line” between developing rising stars and developing and improving role players.
Even if you go back to last year or even farther than that, you will see the impact of Beilein’s development skills. Trey Burke was good young point guard coming out of high school but due to Coach Beilein’s system, coaching and development along with Burke’s commitment to get better, Burke became one of the best players in Wolverine history and one of the top point guards in college basketball. Look back at Tim Hardaway Jr’s career at Michigan, early on in his career, Hardaway Jr. had a tendency to think too much and not let the game to come him but Beilein understood that and helped him to develop confidence and an all-around good game which is why we saw a great improvement in Hardaway Jr’s game and that is one of the key reasons that Hardaway Jr and Burke are having consistent success at the professional level.
Beilein understands how to build a good team and build good all around players but he also understands that takes time and patience. He has shown that he doesn’t need to have the best high school recruits in the country to be good. He simply recruits hard-working players who are talented but who also fit what he wants on both sides of the ball and in the locker-room. Beilein understands strategy and even if his strategy is unorthodox at times and he has gotten these young men to buy into his program and strategy which is why they go out and play hard every game and every practice.
Now, I am not saying this to say that Beilein is the sole reason that the Wolverines are successful, because that’s not true. I have to give credit and recognition to the players, who continue to go out on the floor and execute and I have to give credit and recognition to the Wolverines amazing coaching staff, who do a great job of helping to develop these young men on and off the court. I’m not saying that Beilein is the best head coach in basketball, but I think it’s time that he receive some form of recognition and credit for his accomplishments with the Wolverines. Since the The Big Ten Player of the Year and Coach of the Year will be announced soon, it’s almost safe to say that he will start gaining more of that recognition since he considered to be the top candidate for the award but even if he doesn’t win the Big Ten Coach of the Year award or any other awards, there is no doubt that Beilein is one of the better developers in college basketball and he’s a good college basketball coach who deserves more credit, mainly because he has earned it.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit