The Michigan Wolverines head coach, John Beilein, has never been an assistant coach. He’s always been at the top — the man running the show from the sideline. And through the past few years, he’s proven at Michigan that he is the best coach in the Big 10.
That’s a very lofty statement when he coaches alongside guys like Tom Izzo, Tom Crean and Bo Ryan — just to name a few high-profile names — but he has repeatedly shown us why he deserves that title.
Michigan’s basketball program wasn’t the greatest when he took over in 2007. There was little talent to speak of, and they were not competitive in the Big 10 or nationally. But in comes a man who has done nothing but win at whatever level he coaches. Given the proper amount of time, Beilein is a guy who can recruit well and coach his players to the best of their abilities.
Think back to last season. Michigan was rolling with an NBA backcourt in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Freshman Mitch McGary teased us for most of the season and brought everything together in the NCAA Tournament, where he became a household name practically overnight.
Now skip ahead to this season. Burke is with the Utah Jazz, Hardaway is with the New York Knicks and Mitch McGary will be sitting on the bench in a suit and tie for the rest of the season after back surgery. You don’t replace that kind of production with an individual player; it’s a matter of a unit coming together and getting the job done collectively.
Looking at the loss of McGary, it’s been a combination of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford on the block. Beilein rotates them beautifully. Morgan, the more physical of the two, gets the starts because Beilein noticed Horford is to on-edge if he starts, causing him to commit senseless fouls.
In the backcourt, it’s been freshman Derrick Walton Jr. and Spike Albrecht handling the ball, while Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and freshman Zak Irvin patrol the wings.
Beilein sticks mainly to seven men in his rotation, and he operates it poetically.
Another staple of Beilein’s is player development. It’s the staple of any good coach, really.
From last season to this season, two names come to mind: Stauskas and LeVert. These two did themselves a huge favor by staying in Ann Arbor over the summer and adding muscle weight, but both are now so much smarter on the court and much more reliable under pressure. The game seems to have slowed down for them, a huge step in the right direction for a young player.
First-year players Irvin and Walton have progressed tremendously throughout the season. They both completely understand their roles and play within themselves.
Beilein’s final major staple as a coach is preparing his teams to hold serve at home and steal games on the road.
The Big 10 is home to some of the nastiest venues in college basketball. And by “nasty,” I mean the atmosphere makes it next to impossible to take a game on the road. You see many series splits in the Big 10.
This season, Beilein has taken his team to the Breslin Center (Michigan State), the Kohl Center (Wisconsin), Williams Arena (Minnesota), Assembly Hall (Indiana) and Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa). Of those games, Michigan has lost only twice — at Indiana and at Iowa. Let’s also keep in mind that those two losses fell in a stretch in which Michigan played four games in nine days. It wasn’t exactly an ideal schedule.
Michigan also plays tremendously well at home under Beilein. The Wolverines have dropped two games at home this season, one of which was a two-point loss to the then No. 1 ranked Arizona Wildcats. Two home losses for a Beilein squad honestly seems like two too many, but when the Wolverines catch stride in the Crisler Center, very few teams in the nation are capable of putting them away.
Beilein prepares his team to receive the opposition’s best shot, as they often do receive. That doesn’t mean his team doesn’t take any punches to the gut during a game, though; it means they know how to respond to that punch in the gut. It’s wonderful watching a team grow together like this.
And it’s all thanks to the best coach in the Big 10: John Beilein.