But the job John Beilein has done thus far is nothing short of extraordinary. He’s dealt with more adversity and change than any coach in America this year, and distanced himself from the other coaches around the country.
The guys mentioned above have been phenomenal and are worthy candidates as well. Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State are the only three remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball. Beilein’s cross town rival, Izzo, has dealt with a slew of injuries while keeping his team ranked in the top five the entire season, and what Fischer has done for the San Diego State program, just incredible.
Beilein is a notch above all though, and here’s why: The guy has single-handedly brought Michigan back to national relevance after all those years of dealing with the fallout from the Fab 5 fiasco. I think it’s fair to state too, that the Wolverines were vastly overrated coming into this season–ranked at No. 7 in the preseason AP Poll.
But that’s what a national championship game appearance can do for a team. Sure, they had what appeared to be a future lottery pick in Mitch McGary coming back. Two other sure fire pros in Nik Stauskas and Glen Robinson III returned also. But not enough people truly appreciated what this team lost in last season’s national player of the year and first round NBA draft pick, Trey Burke.
Their second leading scorer in Tim Hardaway Jr. bolted for the NBA, too. In losing Burke and Hardaway Jr., the Wolverines lost a combined 34 points per game. Burke was the best player in the country last year. And it was foolish to expect that this team could just replace a floor general of that caliber, and not miss a beat.
Michigan struggled mightily out of the gate to start the season, losing four of their first 10 games, including a horrific loss to Charlotte. McGary didn’t look like the same player without Burke’s assistance, although he’s been hobbled all season by a back injury that’s limited him to just eight games. He’s currently out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery. I don’t think any player was as hot of a commodity as McGary after his super NCAA tournament performance last March.
Injuries and departures of star underclassmen are the norm in college basketball, unfortunately. You have to be prepared to adjust.
Beilein has adjusted. And so has Michigan.
The coach has done a masterful job of guiding his team to eight straight wins, including six in a row to start the Big 10 season. Nik Stauskas looks like a first team All-American. GRIII is back to making the energy and effort plays that make him special. Caris LeVert‘s growth and emergence has been fun to watch, and even America’s favorite player, Spike Albrecht is contributing, too.
The great coaches have no sense of panic, no thoughts of worry. Beilein is as calm, cool and collected as they come. There’s no doubt in my mind he heard the critics after the Wolverine’s rough 6-4 start.
“What’s going on with Michigan?”
“How do you lose to Charlotte?”
But he tuned them out completely. And so did his players. He didn’t let McGary’s injury define this team’s season, and the adjustments he’s made in life without Burke and Hardaway deserve praise.
As a Michigan State Spartan, it pains me to say this: The University of Michigan is back as an elite college basketball program, and they’re here to stay.
Thank Mr. Beilein for that.
If the season ended today, he’s your National Coach of the Year.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Writer for RantSports.Com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27