When the buzzer sounded in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, Michigan fans got something they have needed for a while: the sweet taste of victory. Never mind that the Wolverines lost to Duke in the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic championship game the next night.
For that one night, Michigan fans could be proud of their team and sing "The Victors" with pride rather than out of obligation or habit.
While an upset of a top-five team on the hardwood won’t take away the sting of the worst football season in Michigan history, Michigan fans finally have quality basketball again during the football offseason.
Those Michigan fans that don’t care for basketball should take a close look at the basketball program, as it could provide a blueprint for the football side.
Like Rich Rodriguez this season, Michigan basketball coach John Beilein was much-maligned last year for recording one of the worst records in program history. The team barely hit double-digit wins (10-22) and failed to make the postseason.
Beilein wasn’t following a legend or a regime that had been in place for 40 years, but hoops fans were eager to return to the heyday of the ‘60s through mid-‘90s when Michigan basketball won 65 percent of its games, seven Big Ten titles, and a National Championship.
For most of his first season, the team was hard to watch. Mistakes, turnovers, and poor shots were frustrated fans who found it hard to accept losing to teams like Harvard, Central Michigan, and Western Kentucky out of conference and perennial cellar-dwellers Northwestern and Penn State in the Big Ten.
Yet, Beilein defended his reputation as a program builder who will succeed by doing things his way despite a lack of early success.
Beilein is known for his 1-3-1 defense and “Princeton-style” offense. Some call it “gimmicky,” but Beilein has proven it works with the right players in place. Both struggled to take hold in year one for a team that was used to playing “me-first” basketball under Tommy Amaker.
Many of the upperclassmen clashed with the new regime leading to some attrition by season’s end. Beilein, like Rich Rodriguez, let the weeds go in order for the grass to flourish.
This season, Beilein brought in a pair of guys (Stu Douglass and Zach Novak) that aren’t traditional Michigan players but come from the basketball-rich state of Indiana and fit the mold of Beilein players: sound fundamentals, hard-nosed defense, and sharp shooting.
Combine those two with those of Beilein’s first recruiting class, led by Manny Harris, and you have a solid core with which to build on.
Michigan basketball won’t be expected to beat the UCLAs and the Dukes quite yet, but as it showed on Thursday night, it has the potential to do so on any given night. There’s still a lot of work to do, but Beilein has his team headed in the right direction much like Rodriguez will next season.
Most importantly, he needs to be given time to do so.
Here’s a comparative breakdown of the two Michigan leaders’ first seasons in Ann Arbor.
Manny Harris = Martavious Odoms
Harris had a breakout year as a freshman last season, earning All-Big Ten honors and leading the Wolverines in scoring. Similarly, Odoms was one of the few bright spots for Michigan football in his freshman season, leading the team in receiving.
He will most likely be on the Big Ten all-freshman team and will look to take on an expanded role as the focus of the offense in year two.
DeShawn Sims = Brandon Minor
Both are holdovers from the previous regimes that will be major factors in the new systems. Sims was highly touted coming out of high school, but played sparingly in his freshman year in 2006. Last season he became a starter and averaged 12.3 points per game.
This season, he was asked to come off the bench but is a major part of the team’s success. Minor showed some flash last year filling in for Mike Hart, but was replaced at the start of this season by true freshman Sam McGuffie.
Minor earned his job back and will play a major role as Michigan’s back next season.
Ronald Coleman = Morgan Trent
As a senior in Beilein’s first year, Coleman started most of the games and had a decent season but didn’t do anything spectacular. He could never be relied on to make big plays. Trent was expected to be much improved this season, but had a good but not great senior season.
He, like the rest of the Michigan secondary, could never be relied on to make a big stop when needed. He finished his career as a capable player that never really materialized.
Epke Udoh = Ryan Mallett
Udoh was a solid performer in his first true season. He was a force down low, recording 92 blocked shots, but was never a major scoring threat. He would have been a major help this season, but transferred to Baylor.
Mallett relieved Chad Henne last season and played fairly well in leading Michigan to wins over Notre Dame, Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. His presence would have helped Michigan’s young offense considerably this season, but he transferred to Arkansas when Rodriguez was hired.
David Merritt = Nick Sheridan/Steven Threet
Merritt walked on to Michigan’s basketball team a year ago and now runs the Michigan offense. He’s a hard-worker but will most likely lose his starting job when transfer Laval Lucas-Perry becomes eligible in January.
Sheridan, also a walk-on, and Threet, a redshirt freshman transfer, took turns leading the Michigan offense this season, but were clearly not capable enough to do so. One or the other may start early next season, but one of the incoming freshmen, Tate Forcier and Shavodrick Beaver, should become the starter.
Zach Gibson = Mark Ortmann/Perry Dorrestein
Gibson, a transfer from Rutgers, came off the bench last year and is the starting center this season, mostly out of necessity. He’s not the most talented or athletic big man and certainly shouldn’t be starting for Michigan.
Likewise, Ortmann and Dorrestein aren’t the ideal linemen for Rodriguez’ offense, but were starters all season, and likely will be next season, until Rodriguez can get the kind of linemen he needs.
Kelvin Grady = Sam McGuffie
Grady was a highly-touted recruit and had a solid freshman season last year, starting 26 games and averaged nearly six points per game. This season, he’s coming off the bench, but still makes a good contribution to the Michigan offense.
McGuffie was also highly-touted and showed some flashes of brilliance in his first year. As long as he stays at Michigan, he should get plenty of playing time next year, sharing the backfield with Minor.
Javohn Shepherd = Greg Matthews
Sheppard was an Amaker recruit who was relatively unknown coming out of Canada and has never materialized over three years at Michigan. He’s a guy that seems like he could be good, but has always been overshadowed. Matthews was supposed to lead Michigan’s receiving corps this year, but was overshadowed by Odoms. He seems like has the talent to break out, but hasn’t done so yet.
Anthony Wright = Junior Hemingway
Wright had a so-so first season, averaging just five points per game. He showed a good shooting touch at times, but was too streaky to be relied on. This season, Wright is a starter and will be called on to provide some scoring to help out Harris and Sims.
Hemingway was expected to step up this season at receiver, but never did much. An injury forced his season to end early. Next season, Hemingway should step up alongside Matthews, Odoms, and Daryll Stonum.
Laval Lucas-Perry = Tate Forcier/Shavodrick Beaver
Perry was a big-time recruit who transferred from Arizona last season. His eligibility begins in January and his presence will be heavily anticipated. He averaged 21 points a game as a senior in high school and should give Michigan its first solid point guard since Daniel Horton.
Forcier and Beaver are expected to enroll in Ann Arbor in January and compete for the starting quarterback job. Whichever one wins the job should be the man leading Michigan’s offense for the next few years.
Who will be the Stu Douglass and Zach Novak of next year’s football team? Rodriguez has gone down to the football hotbed of Florida and plucked some recruits away from the Gators, Hurricanes, and Seminoles to add speed to his offense. We’ll find out which freshmen will step up when next fall rolls around.
For now, let’s just enjoy Michigan basketball’s run at its first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.