There are three essential elements to success in basketball. Successful teams play with mental composure, a physical presence and a sense of urgency that is developed over time. Last March, the Michigan Wolverines clearly exhibited those winning tendencies. This season, however, the team that was ranked seventh in the nation to start the year finds itself sitting at 6-4 with just two games left before the Big 10 season begins.
Michigan is still learning how to blend the three secret spices with John Beilein, despite what the team’s success last March would lead you to believe. He seems like a modest coach that is willing to try just about anything to succeed and isn’t too proud to work his way up the ranks. His success at four NCAA levels (Juco, NAIA, DII and DI) shows that he has the brains to succeed and is able to extract effort from his players. Furthermore, Beilein is apparently a better salesman than the previous coach, Tommy Amaker, probably because he is willing to look high and low for talent with a better eye for talent altogether.
Amaker wasn’t able to find the brawn to go with his brains and effort. I wonder how much of this had to do with his penchant for wearing a blazer/mock turtleneck combo; would you want to be seen next to that on the court? His move to Harvard only serves to exacerbate my feeling that Michigan struggled because Amaker couldn’t identify with top athletes, but had an easy time relating to solid athletes that shared his intellectual capacity. He is clearly more at home as the coach for the Harvard Crimson, who scored a monumental upset over the New Mexico Lobos last March as a 14-seed.
You saw last season what happened when Beilein finally had some brawn that he recruited. There have been too many regular season lapses, however, for Michigan to join Michigan State and Ohio State at the top of the Big 10 in the tournament on a consistent basis. Beilein seems to struggle on the road, especially against cement mixers like Penn State and Wisconsin. This season’s team has only played two true road games, and it has lost both times, albeit against quality opponents in the Iowa State Cyclones and Duke Blue Devils.
Michigan has crumbled down the stretch too many times to be taken seriously as a contender in the Big 10 at this point. However, the Wolverines have so much firepower that they can gun their way to victory against any team in the nation. John Beilein must figure out how to harness that firepower and have the team play with the steadiness of an IV drip as opposed its current reliability level of apartment complex laundry machines.
Don’t count Michigan out yet. The Wolverines finished fifth in the Big 10 last year and still made a spectacular run to the national championship game. That team didn’t have its problems exposed nearly as soon as this year — they started 16-0 and didn’t lose their fourth game until February 12 — but there are still plenty of pieces in place from that squad to replicate the journey to the top of the mountain. This team just has to work a little harder to find its recipe for success.