Michigan Basketball: Exploring Potential Costs of Wolverines' Recent Success
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It may have taken more than a decade, but Michigan basketball finally finds itself back in the national spotlight. Playing for a national championship the year after winning a Big Ten Conference title usually helps a struggling program rise from the ashes. However, every rejuvenation has costs.
Success is never free. The Maize and Blue faithful will begin to figure this out soon enough.
Prior to head coach John Beilein's arrival in 2007, the Wolverines were still recovering from crippling NCAA sanctions. Tommy Amaker helped repair the program's tarnished image in the early 2000s. During his six seasons (2001-07) at the helm, though, Michigan failed to make an NCAA tournament appearance, something it had not done since 1998.
Beilein ended the drought in just his second year at the helm. After a brief regression in 2009-10, the Wolverines have gone on to make the Big Dance three straight times.
The 2011-12 group won a share of the Big Ten, its first since 1986. Last year's team, led by Wooden Award-winning point guard Trey Burke, nearly won a second straight league crown and shot itself into the Final Four. Fans had not seen that since 1993.
With a pair of projected NBA draft lottery picks back in Ann Arbor and a top-15 recruiting class coming in, Michigan will be a part of the national conversation once again. Athletic director Dave Brandon further ensured the program's stability and future success by extending Beilein's contract through 2019.
Three potential costs come along with all of the high hopes the next several years hold, though.
Key Players Declaring for the Draft
This is perhaps the most obvious price of winning. Competing for championships on a consistent basis requires NBA-caliber talent. The one-and-done rule makes it difficult to keep star players around. No one can really blame them for leaping at a chance to make millions as a professional.
Michigan has dealt with a few early departures during its current rise. Manny Harris passed up his senior season to enter the 2010 draft. Darius Morris became a second-round pick in 2011 after his sophomore year with the Wolverines. Both Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. kept the trend going this offseason by forgoing the remainder of their college eligibility.
Next in line are Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, who could have been first-rounders in this year's draft.
Future early entries could be ESPN's 5-star shooting guard Zak Irvin and highly touted freshman point guard Derrick Walton. Landing coveted shooter Devin Booker, top-10 forward Kevon Looney or Trevon Bluiett would add to the list.
Top recruits will continue flocking to Ann Arbor for the foreseeable future. In fact, the best is probably yet to come for Beilein's staff on the recruiting trail.
Stockpiling NBA prospects means fans will have to worry about key cogs in Michigan's rotation turning pro. It will not be anything like an offseason at Kentucky, but players leaving early is inevitable given the state of the Wolverines.
Increased Assistant Coach Turnover
When a head coaching position becomes available, the Maize and Blue faithful should keep its eyes on the list of replacement candidates. Losing assistant coaches to other programs is going to be a serious concern going forward.
LaVall Jordan came close to being Butler's next head coach. Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com believes fellow assistant Bacari Alexander is in line for a promotion soon as well:
Losing Jordan would NOT have been a good thing for UM. But, guys like he and Bacari Alexander will have HC jobs eventually. Part of the game— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) July 6, 2013
Not only did Jordan turn Burke and Morris into NBA draft picks, he has also been an excellent recruiter. His connections in the state of Indiana have helped the Wolverines immensely. Landing Robinson and Irvin would have been much tougher without Jordan on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Alexander shored up McGary's shoddy footwork in 2012-13. Much of McGary's breakout performance in the NCAA tournament had to do with Alexander's coaching.
The only assistant likely to stay put for the long haul is Jeff Meyer, who has already been at the helm of a program. Meyer coached the Liberty Flames from 1981 to 1997. Since then, he has enjoyed assistantships at Butler, Missouri and Indiana until joining Beilein in 2008.
Sooner rather than later, a rising program will hire Jordan or Alexander. Michigan fans will have to hope the staff turnover does not affect on-court success.
Unlike another prominent Big Ten program in the Great Lakes State, the Wolverines are not used to carrying the burden of championship expectations year in and year out. This is perhaps the most daunting task Michigan will face.
Combine a high benchmark with the consistently younger rosters the Wolverines will have going forward. The result may not always be a terrific campaign.
Two years ago, Michigan could not be found in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll. In all likelihood, the Wolverines will be a Top 10 team when this season's poll is finally unveiled. It will be the first time Beilein's group will have to deal with these kind of expectations for back-to-back campaigns.
Plenty of teams crack under the pressure put on it by fans. Whether or not Michigan can continually live up to the hype remains to be seen.
Big Ten titles are the new standard in Ann Arbor. Final Fours could soon become just as expected—though, it seems to be a year away before that would be realistic.
Time will tell, but until the Maize and Blue prove otherwise, there is going to be a bit of a concern about rising expectations.
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