Posts Tagged ‘Tommy Amaker’

Michigan basketball 2013-14 season preview

Friday, November 8th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Six and a half years ago, an eternity for college athletics, Michigan announced the hiring of John Beilein from West Virginia. Beilein, whose father was a farmer and paper mill plant superintendent, made a name for himself with a unique system predicated on always having four players be a threat from three-point land.

Having coached at Canisius, Le Moyne, and Erie Community College, among other little-known schools, Beilein knew that he would have to devise some plan to be able to compete at the higher ranks. He was never going to get the best athletes or biggest players, so he had to continuously tweak his offense to make what he had work.

Somewhere along the way, Beilein was labled an offensive genius. Perhaps it was for the fact that he had never been an assistant coach in his life, or maybe it was his job in taking Canisius to the NCAA Tournament and winning a Tournament game as the head man at Richmond with a 14th-seeded team.

Wherever it came from, the mantra stuck through his time at West Virginia, where Beilein took the Mountaineers to the Elite Eight and the Sweet Sixteen with players that were simply not on the same level as the competition they consistently faced.

Beilein has built Michigan into a regular Big Ten title contender and national power (Brad Penner, USA Today Sports)

Eventually, Beilein’s success throughout the lower levels of coaching brought him to Ann Arbor and finally gave him the opportunity to show what his system could do with an equal playing field.

In his first year, competing with a team left over by Tommy Amaker, Beilein looked like he might have made a mistake. The Wolverines hobbled to a 10-22 record in the 2007-08 season and weren’t projected to do much better the next.

Soon, however, it seemed clear that Beilein had a plan. He led Michigan to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years with a squad picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten and upset the seventh-seeded Clemson Tigers in the first round.

Then, following another brutal year in 2009-10 in which Beilein’s preseason top-15 team flopped to a 15-17 record, question marks arose again.

With pressure mounting and Beilein’s first recruiting classes starting to mature, he made a move that would alter the course of Michigan basketball. John Beilein, a loyal and honest man if there ever was one, cleaned out his coaching staff, promoting Jeff Meyer permanently to assistant and hiring young guns Lavall Jordan and Bacari Alexander.

One season later, with his own coaches and his first Michigan team that featured only players that he had recruited, Beilein led the Wolverines back to the second round of the Big Dance.

Since then, he has not looked back.

Tonight, Beilein will watch as Michigan adds an NCAA Final Four banner to the rafters of the Crisler Center. He’ll reminisce of last season’s dream run one final time, he said, and then it’s back to work.

Coaching transitions are never easy, and Beilein’s rise to the top at Michigan certainly did not come without some low moments, but he showed his true talents last year.

Now, Beilein will look to prove himself once again with a clean slate. It won’t be as difficult as when he was competing with under-sized players or guys that he never recruited, but there will be plenty of challenges. Michigan will play at Duke and versus Arizona, two top-10 teams, along with a trip to a packed Puerto Rico Tip-off in the non-conference alone. The Big Ten also projects to be the strongest conference in the nation, with four teams in the preseason top 25 and a few middle-of-the-pack teams that should also contend for an NCAA berth.

This year’s Michigan team is bursting at the seams with potential, however, and though it will be different from any Beilein team of the past, it’s a safe bet that the offense will thrive with a few tweaks here and there.

McGary will start the season in street clothes with a back injury, but is in line for a huge season once healthy

The Wolverines do lose Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and a few senior leaders, but they also return five sophomores who made waves as the Fresh Five last season and add a few very talented freshmen.

Derrick Walton, who will be called upon to lead this Michigan team as a freshman, will never be the same player as Burke, but Beilein doesn’t need that. He will tinker with what he has until he finds the right system. There probably won’t be as many pick-and-roll actions at the top of the key, and the ball will not rest in the hands of one player as often as it did with Burke.

Instead, diversity and versatility will be the name of the game. Walton and Spike Albrecht will be called upon to handle the ball and find the scorers, of which there are many, but Michigan should be able to field adept lineups featuring anything from two point guards on the floor to nothing but 6’6 players and above.

That versatility is almost unfair when given to a coach with an offensive mind like Beilein’s.

Nonetheless, Michigan will not be perfect, and already there are questions emerging. Mitch McGary, Beilein’s best ever catch on the recruiting trail, has been hampered by a lower back condition for all of fall practice and will not play in tonight’s season opener. He may not be fully healthy all season long.

The question of youth is also an issue. Can Michigan really expect to compete in the Big Ten and in the NCAA Tournament with a team dominated by underclassmen?

But that is the nature of college basketball. If there were no uncertainty, there would be no fun.

At this juncture of the year, Michigan looks to be in great shape. Boasting arguably the best athlete and one of the best shooters in all of college basketball (Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas) along with a preseason AP All-American (McGary), two freshmen with great offensive and defensive prowess (Walton and Zak Irvin), a wildcard sophomore who seems worlds better than last year (Caris LeVert), and a pair of veteran big men who are leaders on and off the court (Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan), Beilein seems poised to bring his team back to the promised land.

The long journey of the college basketball season begins tonight, and many eyes will be on Ann Arbor.

Brace yourself, for it’s the best time of the year.

2013-14 Michigan basketball predictions
Top 5 Scorers
1. Glenn Robinson III 14.0
2. Nik Stauskas 13.5
3. Mitch McGary 12.0*
4. Zak Irvin 9.5
5. Caris LeVert 8.0
Top 5 Rebounders
1. Mitch McGary 9.5*
2. Glenn Robinson III 6.0
3. Jon Horford 4.0
4. Jordan Morgan 3.5
5. Nik Stauskas 3.5
Top 5 Assists
1. Derrick Walton, Jr. 4.0
2. Caris LeVert 3.0
3. Nik Stauskas 2.0
4. Spike Albrecht 1.5
5. Zak Irvin 1.5
Top 5 Field Goal Percentage Shooters
1. Mitch McGary
2. Jon Horford
3. Glenn Robinson III
4. Jordan Morgan
5. Spike Albrecht
Top 5 3-Point Percentage Shooters
1. Nik Stauskas
2. Spike Albrecht
3. Zak Irvin
4. Glenn Robinson III
5. Caris LeVert
Minute breakdown
1 – Walton (26), Albrecht (14)
2 – LeVert (25), Irvin (15)
3 – Stauskas (28), Robinson III (7), Irvin (5)
4 – Robinson III (33), McGary (7)*
5 – McGary (18)*, Horford (12), Morgan (10)
Superlatives
Most improved player Caris LeVert
Most valuable freshman Derrick Walton Jr.
Most valuable player Glenn Robinson III
Final record 30-7 (15-3 Big Ten)
Conference finish T1
Postseason NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight
*denotes projected stats when healthy

Michigan basketball season preview: the time is now

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012


Five years ago, the University of Michigan basketball program was going through some changes after a dark period in which the Wolverines failed to make an NCAA Tournament field for more than 10 years. Tommy Amaker did his best in six seasons leading the team, but he never seemed to get the program over the hump, only finding his team nationally-ranked twice, and never in the top 20. Michigan was simply irrelevant nationally and hardly competitive in their own conference.

As the 2006-07 season ended in yet another missed Tournament, Bill Martin had a big decision to make at the top. He could either retain Amaker and give him one last shot, considering the heralded recruiting class he had signed that season, or he could cut ties once and for all and start over with a new head coach.

Tommy Amaker could never turn the corner in Ann Arbor

Many, including I, wanted to see Amaker get that final audition; a class of Alex Legion, Manny Harris, and Kelvin Grady was one of the best Michigan had seen in years and figured to at least get Michigan out of the Big Dance funk, away from the NIT for good. Martin, however, in one of his final significant acts as the Athletic Director at Michigan, decided to move in another direction, hiring John Beilein away from West Virginia.

Like most major decisions having to do with sports, Beilein’s hiring was questioned by many, accepted by some, and heralded by few. He was seen as a coach that made the most of lesser talent, a guy that couldn’t recruit at the level necessary to compete on the national stage. The common wisdom was that his three-point-heavy offense was less intricate than it was fluky – sure, it would win some games when the team was hot, but it would never be consistent enough to win a conference title or to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Beilein’s Elite Eight run at West Virginia was seemingly shadowed by the fact that he failed to guide his Mountaineer team to the NCAA Tournament in his final season in Morgantown.

For the first year, Beilein’s critics were out in full force as Michigan stumbled its way to a 10-22 overall record, including an abysmal 5-13 mark in Big Ten games. The season included a more-than fair share of blowout losses, an embarrassing six-game losing streak in the middle of the conference season, and defeats at the hands of Central Michigan, Western Kentucky, and, worst of all, Harvard, who had just hired Amaker after he packed his bags and headed out of Ann Arbor. Beilein was able to convince Harris and Grady to stick with their commitments and don the Maize and Blue, but he was unable to retain Legion, the once five-star talent. The future did not look bright.

The following season, Beilein brought in his first recruiting class at Michigan, a class that may have been the lowest-ranked in the history of Michigan basketball. It featured 7’0” big man Ben Cronin, who ended up flaming out because of injuries, along with Stuart Douglass and Zack Novak, both no-names out of Indiana that were far from recruiting coups for Beilein. Douglass was reportedly considering Harvard before Michigan came calling, while Novak’s well-publicized story saw his Valparaiso offer pulled. His decision was likely to come down to walking onto the baseball team at Indiana and pleading to get a shot on the basketball court or suiting up at the Division II level somewhere, until once again Beilein saw something in him that no one else did.

Michigan got back into the Big Dance and laid the groundwork for today (photo by Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com)

Needless to say, there was not a lot of hype for the Wolverines going into Beilein’s second season. Manny Harris would return after leading the team in scoring his freshman season alongside fellow Detroiter DeShawn Sims, who was starting to emerge as another scorer on the team, but it was quite evident that Beilein still did not have the personnel that he needed to operate his system most effectively.

Then something funny happened. In a game that was hardly talked about at all beforehand, Michigan upset No. 4 UCLA at Madison Square Garden before losing to Duke the following night in the finals of the 2K Sports Classic. Perhaps Beilein truly did have something that no one else new about quite yet.

Just two weeks later, Michigan welcomed the Blue Devils to Crisler Arena and shocked them to the tune of an 81-73 upset, the second win for Beilein over the No. 4 team in the country in fewer than three weeks. The Wolverines experienced their fair share of bumps in the road the rest of the season, but when it was all said and done, Beilein had brought Michigan back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 seasons, and much sooner than anyone had predicted. A first-round win over Clemson was just icing on the cake.

Finally, after being out of the spotlight for years and years, Michigan was back, ranked 15th in the country entering John Beilein’s third year. Recruiting had started to pick up slowly as well, with Beilein securing a commitment from four-star Californian point guard Darius Morris and a trio of three stars in Jordan Morgan, Blake McLimans, and Matt Vogrich. At least this time around about half the class had options besides Michigan.

Upsetting UCLA, and Duke a week later, signaled the beginning of the return of Michigan basketball

There was only one problem – leadership. Michigan got off to a terrible start, losing five games before Big Ten season even began, and simply looked lost. They had the talent to compete, but the players didn’t play together, and at times, they didn’t seem to care. By the middle of Big Ten season Michigan was all but out of it, and a halfcourt dagger from Evan Turner in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament ended any shot the Wolverines once had of playing in any postseason tournament. The No. 15 team in the country going into the season ended the year with only 15 wins and a losing record. Beilein’s job was far from safe just a year after people were praising him for a quick turnaround.

Something had to change in the next offseason or the Michigan basketball program was in serious danger of reverting to the dark ages. That something was leadership. Sims graduated and Harris followed him out the door, meaning Beilein’s team would probably have to rely on his system to out-perform expectations yet again.

There is no doubt that Sims and Harris laid the foundation for the turnaround, but perhaps their departure came at the right time, as Novak took the team into his hands and led the way as Darius Morris bloomed into an All-Big Ten talent at point guard, leading the team in scoring and assists. Meanwhile, Tim Hardaway, Jr., though not highly-recruited, was another Beilein player making an impact, scoring double digits his freshman year. Jon Horford and Evan Smotrycz, a four-star, 6’9” shooter joined Hardaway as late bloomers that Beilein banked on turning into serviceable players on the biggest stage. The trend was starting to become clear: Beilein still couldn’t recruit with the big boys, but by getting guys that flew under the radar and fit his system, success was within reach.

The 2010-11 season was a success indeed, as the Wolverines got back on track after a scare at the beginning of Big Ten season in which Michigan lost six straight and was in danger of reeling out of control. The game that could have been the seventh loss in a row instead turned out to be the signature win of the Beilein era to date, as his struggling squad went into East Lansing and shocked Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. The win got the team in the groove, and only a two-point, last-second loss to Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament kept Michigan from reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in well over a decade.

A heralded recruiting class has Michigan in the preseason top 5

The following offseason there was further concern, as Morris bolted for the NBA, but as everyone knows by now, a relatively unknown freshman point guard by the name of Trey Burke did his best to make everyone forget about that last season. Another successful season last year ended in a disappointing second-round loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, but at this point it is clear that Beilein finally has a team full of his players, a team that he and most others feel can compete and win at the highest level. The Wolverines shared the Big Ten title for the first time in more than 20 years, a huge accomplishment for everyone involved, but perhaps even more is expected now.

Novak and Douglass were the heart of the Michigan team last season, and while their numbers didn’t jump off the page, one only needs to think back to that dubious 2009-10 season to realize that leadership will be one of the focal points early on in this season. Josh Bartelstein will be asked to lead as captain of the team off the court, but Beilein welcomes a bevy of talent in the form of both veterans and newbies, enough to see experts pegging the Wolverines in the top five teams in the country.

Without a doubt, this is unchartered territory for John Beilein, and while Ann Arbor has seen basketball teams that were thought of this highly in the past, it’s been at least 15 long years of suffering since that was the case. Looking over the past five seasons, this team has been on a roller coaster ride, but things have been looking up for three years straight. Beilein has silenced many of his doubters by continuing to eye top-level talent that goes under the radar (Glenn Robinson III), and more surprisingly, he has now shown that he is able to compete with the big boys on the recruiting trail now, grabbing the likes of Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas away from Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, and Kentucky.

The time for Beilein to show that he can bring a highly-regarded team to the promised land has come. If the Wolverines are to compete for Final Fours and National Championships into the future, they need to show this season that they can live up to lofty expectations. The talent is here, and Beilein has depth, size, and versatility in amounts he could have never imagined only two seasons ago. An All-American will run the team on the court, a seasoned junior will shoulder much of the scoring load, and two star freshmen should be ready to make an immediate impact. Will this team realize its potential and reach Atlanta in March, or will it all come crumbling down as it did three long years ago? No one knows for sure yet, and there will certainly be bumps in the road again. But for Michigan basketball, the time is now.

Season Predictions

Record:
26-6 (13-5 Big Ten)

Big Ten Finish:
T1

Postseason Finish:
Final Four

MVP:
Tim Hardaway, Jr.

Newcomer of the Year:
Glenn Robinson, III

One Game Season

Friday, March 4th, 2011


In a season that was supposed to be a battle just to make the NIT, Michigan basketball has performed well above expectations, having played itself to the cusp of an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. One game stands in the way of that goal and it couldn’t write itself any better than this.

In football, the season ends with the annual battle with Ohio State. More times than not (although not as of late), it comes down to that game to decide the Big Ten champion, which team goes to the Rose Bowl, or at the very least, which team gets the better bowl game.

But in basketball, Michigan State serves as Michigan’s biggest rival and the past decade and a half has been pretty one-sided. Saturday presents an opportunity to change all that; an opportunity few thought possible five months ago.

Both teams enter Crisler Arena in need of a win to finish in the top half of the Big Ten standings, earn a first round bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament, and put itself in prime position for an at-large bid in the NCAA.

For Michigan, the past decade and a half has been filled with strife and heartache since the Ed Martin scandal rocked the program in the late 1990s. The once proud and strong program that produced the Fab 5 and won the National Championship in 1989 has been through three coaches and just two tournament appearances since Steve Fisher was fired in ’97 (one since 1998).

A Tale of Two Programs
Block M logo

Since 1997

244-202 Record 348-130
54.7 Winning %
72.8
6 Head to Head Wins
18
10 Avg. Winning Margin
17
0 Big Ten Titles
6
2 NCAA Tournaments 14
0 Final Fours
6
0 National Championships
1
*Includes this season’s previous meeting

Coincidentally, that was also the last time Michigan swept Michigan State and the point in which the Spartans began their rise to become the prominent team in the state.

Since then, MSU has been to the NCAA Tournament every season, reached the Final Four six times, and won the championship in 2000, while Michigan’s lone appearance was two seasons ago.

On Saturday, Michigan has a chance to not only sweep its hated rival for the first time since ’97, but possibly keep the Spartans out of the Big Dance for the first time since that year and take a big step towards reclaiming the state.

Head Coach John Beilein has seemingly resurrected the program that showed signs of potential during the Tommy Amaker years, but never realized that potential. Beilein came in with a different coaching and recruiting mentality – one based on recruiting high character kids that fit his system – and has Michigan playing well above its head and talent level.

He’s always managed to get the best out of his players, and with a team chalk full of underclassmen and no seniors, Beilein finally has an emerging star at point guard and a coveted number two scorer in the duo of Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. He also has a pair of Top-100 players coming in next season in Carlton Brundidge and Trey Burke, so the program is on its way up.

But the first step in that process is beating Michigan State tomorrow. In the season’s first meeting, Michigan outlasted the Spartans in East Lansing, 61-57. Zack Novak led the way with 19 points, while Morris had 17, but it was Stu Douglass who was the biggest hero, hitting with a three-pointer with 22 seconds left to seal the win. Michigan hit 10 threes in the game, shot 50 percent from the field, tied the Spartans in rebounds and committed one more turnover (13) than MSU.

A win would most likely give Michigan the fifth seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a second round matchup with Illinois, which hosts last-place Indiana on Saturday. Most importantly, a win would put Michigan at 19-12, 9-9 in the Big Ten (tied for fourth) and almost assure the Wolverines an at-large bid in the Big Dance. A loss would probably pit Michigan against Iowa in the first round of the BTT and Michigan would have to win that one and one or two more to even have a shot.

It has been a long time since Michigan basketball has had a game this meaningful, and tomorrow’s game will certainly have Crisler rocking. Following Michigan State’s win over Iowa on Wednesday, Head Coach Tom Izzo declared, “We’re gonna find a way to win Saturday and get you back to where you belong: in the NCAA Tournament.” It’s not much of a guarantee, but the Maize Out on Saturday will act as if he guaranteed he would never lose to Michigan again, and make him eat his words.

As for me, I’m going to find a way to keep my wife, who is nine months pregnant, from going into labor tonight so I can be where I belong: watching a Michigan victory over Little Brother. Go Blue!

Should Manny Harris Go Pro?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010


Michigan junior guard Manny Harris is reportedly announcing his decision on whether or not he’s going pro Monday morning at 11 a.m. Whatever his decision is, the biggest question remains whether he should go pro.

I’m not an NBA general manager or scout, but it is my opinion that he would be well served to return to Michigan for his senior season.

As of now, his projection is anywhere from mid-second round to undrafted. Unless he has heard otherwise from those in the know, why would he declare? If there’s any question as to whether you might not get drafted, there should be absolutely no reason to even think about entering the NBA Draft a year early.

This reminds me of Ernest Shazor who was a dominating, head-hunting strong safety for Michigan’s football team in the early part of the decade. His NFL Draft projection was mid-second round, and he jumped a year early. He went undrafted and never made it to the NFL.

Harris has been dominant at times for Michigan, but he has also been inconsistent and had some maturity problems.

His strength is driving to the basket, and he can pour in points by the bunches, but his outside shot still needs some work and he’s careless with the ball at times.

Harris averaged 17 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists the past three seasons

Harris averaged 17 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists the past three seasons

Manny has done a lot for Michigan basketball in the past three years. As a senior at Detroit Redford High School, he was Michigan’s Mr. Basketball and gave his commitment to then-Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker. But Amaker was fired after the 2006 season and Harris thought about looking elsewhere.

New Michigan head coach John Beilein convinced Harris to come to Michigan and after a disappointing freshman season, Harris led Michigan to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years.

This season, Harris was the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, but fell short of the expectations and wasn’t able to lead Michigan back to the postseason. He averaged 18.1 points, good for fourth in the Big Ten, and six rebounds, 11th in the Big Ten; however, his play was inconsistent.

Midway through the season, Beilein benched Harris for a game for “unsportsmanlike conduct during practice.”

It’s unclear whether that strained Harris’ relationship with Coach Beilein or whether that will play a factor in his decision to turn pro. What is clear is his friendship with senior forward DeShawn Sims. The two formed the “Detroit Duo” and were the only rays of light in an abysmal season this year.

Sims came to Michigan a year before Harris and stayed through the coaching change, welcoming Harris to Ann Arbor in 2006. He made the decision last season to return for his senior year.

“My best decision was to come back to Michigan,” Sims said last year. “I want to graduate. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever come back to school if I left early.”

Harris also thought about turning pro after his sophomore season, but decided to return.

“I wasn’t at all serious about going pro,” Harris said. “A lot of people got in my ear telling me to make the jump, but I wasn’t thinking about leaving. I never was a person who came here thinking I’m one (season) and done, or two and done.”

But three and done? We’ll find out tomorrow morning.