It’s hard to believe, but John Beilein’s now in his ninth season at Michigan. About a week and a half ago, he coached his 300th game for the Maize and Blue. After a coach has been around for a certain amount of time, he essentially becomes a known quantity: his offensive philosophies, defensive strategies, substitution patterns, recruiting priorities, and player development trends are all well-known among Michigan fans, and at this point, there’s little mystery about John Beilein or his methods.
In the wake of two embarrassing blowout losses to hated rivals, there was predictable bellyaching about Beilein’s level of job security – some fans even went as far as to call for his firing (while evidently forgetting the Ellerbe-Amaker purgatory that Beilein pulled Michigan out of in the first place). To be sure, it’s easy for people to harp on Beilein’s perceived blind spots and, to be sure, some of those complaints are valid. The reluctance to play guys in foul trouble has surely cost Michigan games over the years. Empirically, we’ve discovered that he manages to develop average defenses at best, and usually they’re far more mediocre than average. Sometimes it seems as if he struggles to accommodate players who don’t have skill sets tailor-made for his system. Gripes about his recruiting strategy and/or the outcome of his recruiting classes have varying levels of credibility.
Still, it’s important to remember Beilein’s strengths. He was well ahead of his time with his insistence on spacing, shooting, and using a non-traditional four in his signature four-out motion offense. There are several notable examples of his players vastly overachieving relative to what their recruiting rankings would project. He adapted to the unprecedented level of talent on his teams by implementing more pick-and-roll action into his offense – and indeed, the trend of his guards developing their passing ability in those sets can surely be attributed to coaching. He coached the best offense in the country in two separate years. He’s won two Big Ten titles – including an outright title in a year in which #2 finished three games behind Michigan in college basketball’s toughest contest. He was once a few possessions from winning a national title. He was once a few possessions from reaching another Final Four.
All of that is to say: you’re crazy if you legitimately want Michigan to replace John Beilein. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and it’s pretty green here already.
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More or less, this has been a pretty frustrating season (and I’m convinced that the hideous shorts play a not-insignificant part in that). With the notable exception of wins over Maryland and Purdue – more on those in a second – Michigan has won as the favorite and lost as the underdog, and more than a few of those losses have been complete annihilations. Spike Albrecht’s senior season died before it could even begin. Caris LeVert missed over half of Big Ten play with an injury (but he’s back! Woo!). The reality has probably been better than the discourse would indicate: Michigan’s sitting in fourth in the Big Ten, should be safely in the NCAA Tournament barring an epic meltdown, and, critically, still has plenty of room to improve – especially if LeVert makes it back to his phenomenal early-season form.
Anyways, back to those wins over Maryland and Purdue. Those two wins are the linchpin of Michigan’s NCAA Tournament resume: without them, Michigan would be in the unenviable position of talented low-major programs that put up a gaudy win-loss record before losing in their conference tournament – without wins over good opponents, those teams typically find themselves in the NIT.
What do Maryland and Purdue have in common? Per KenPom’s “effective height” metric (which adjusts each individual’s height based on how many minutes they play), they are the two tallest high-major teams in the country. A common criticism of John Beilein teams is that they are ill-equipped to deal with teams with size: juxtaposed against the construct of the big, burly, physical Big Ten, Beilein’s teams – which prize skill and shooting – often match up poorly, in theory.
[After the JUMP, small-ball defeats bully-ball]
Part 1: Introduction
In the aftermath of two consecutive, embarassing losses at home and a season that has been satisfactory at best (and by satisfactory, I mean, that outside of a win against Maryland, Michigan has handled the teams they should beat and lost to the teams they should lose to), there has been an ongoing debate on whether John Beilein should be on the hot seat or even fired. This is an objective look at John Beilein's success in the context of Michigan basketball history and Beilein's modern contemporaries.
Part 2: Michigan's Place in the Pecking Order
A week or so ago there was a debate about "blue bloods" as it pertained to college football programs. The consensus was that some programs (Michigan among them) have an inherent advantage and sustained legacy of success. The program draws the best coaches and the best players. Jim Harbaugh isn't leaving the NFL to go coach Purdue. John Calipari isn't leaving Memphis for Auburn. I used a fairly simple system to rank every program in a Power 5 + AAC + Big East conference. A NCAA Tournament appearance is worth 1 point. A Final Four is worth 5 points. A National Championship is worth 10 points.
In the interest of time and space I won't list every level and program. The system came up with 7 "Blue Bloods". UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Louisville, and Kansas. On the second level, there were 12 programs. They are:
Ohio State, Michigan State, Connecticut, Arizona, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Arkansas, Michigan, Villanova, Georgetown, and Florida.
These are the programs that historically have matched Michigan's success. You could argue against Oklahoma State's inclusion (made it based on two titles in the 1940s) or that State or UConn deserves to be bumped up a level. So, how is John Beilein doing compared to the coaches of these 11 programs (Ohio State and Michigan State will be saved for the B1G section)? Let's take a look:
|John Thompson III||Georgetown||11+||.675||3||8||1||0|
Throw out Boeheim. It's impossible to compare Beilein to a guy who has been at Syracuse for 40 years. Beilein's resume at this point is most comparable to Mick Cronin at Cincinnati which makes sense. Cronin relies on fielding a strong defense that creates rock fights, but his teams routinely hae trouble scoring. Cincinnati was in a strong Big East minus the last 2+ years so it's not like the American offered an easy way into the tournament. Every other coach outside of Mike Anderson (who has a higher winning %) has been more successful.
Part 3: Beilein's Place in Michigan History
Okay, so Beilein hasn't been as successful as the coaches of other programs on Michigan's level, but he turned what had been a pretty big disaster and resurrected it. How does Beilein compare to the other coaches in Michigan's long history? Because the NCAA Tournament didn't expand until 1985, I gave coaches a tournament berth if their team had a winning % over .667 (a 20-10 record today).
|Bill Freider||9||.680||2||5 (+1)||0||0|
|Johnny Orr||12||.649||0||4 (+1)||1||0|
|Dave Strack||8||.559||3||3 (+1)||2||0|
|Bill Perigo||8||.438||0||0 (+1)||0||0|
|Ernie McCoy||4||.460||0||0 (+1)||0||0|
This looks a little better for Beilein. He's already led Michigan to the 3rd most NCAA Tournaments under one coach (counting an extra one for Freider). He brought respectability back to Michigan basketball. His % of NCAA Tournaments to seasons is better than everybody but Fisher. Is he the 2nd best coach in Michigan history? I think he is.
Part 4: Beilein vs B1G Contemporaries
Last part of the analysis is how is Beilein doing compared to the other coaches who have been in the B1G while Beilein has been at Michigan.
|Tom Izzo||Michigan St.||20+||.717||7||18||7||1|
|Thad Matta||Ohio St.||11+||..751||5||9||2||0|
|Ed DeChellis||Penn St.||8||.452||0||1||0||0|
|Pat Chambers||Penn St.||4+||.439||0||0||0||0|
Wow, that's a lot of data and one joke, so let's try to break it down. Matta, Ryan, and Izzo have been the gold standard for the past decade plus in the B1G. Beilein's closest comparison is probably Bruce Weber. You know who got fired after missing the tournament 3 times in 5 years? Bruce Weber. Still, during Beilein's tenure Michigan has been the 4th best program in the conference. That's basically in line with history.
Part 5: So, Should He Be Fired?
No. We don't know what the hell is going to happen the rest of the year. Michigan needs to take care of business against Minnesota and Northwestern, go 1-2 in their road games against Ohio St., Wisky and Maryland, and split their homes games against Iowa and Purdue. That'll give them 2 solid wins and no bad losses at 21-10 and a winning record in the B1G which should put them in the tournament. If that happens, Beilein is safe. If they make a run to the Elite 8 or Sweet 16, then it's even more of a no brainer. However, if Michigan collapses and loses 5 of their last 7 and miss the tournament, he goes into next year on the hot seat. If they miss the tournament against next year, that puts him well below the level set by let's say Matt Painter at Purdue, traditionally a worse program than Michigan's.
Looks like JB's slipped to 40%, but I'm guessing that even with zero additional votes, he'll still win this round.
However, I've heard it takes 17 days to make or break a habit, so hopefully by the time he gets to the Final Four, we can help him win decisively.
We'll start off with Bill Frieder, then to Steve Fisher, then to Ellerbe*, and then to Amaker, and finally John Beilein.
Bill Frieder (1980-89): Overall career record at Michigan is 188-90, and a conference record of 102-64. His overall winning percentage is 0.676 and his conference winning % is 0.614. He won the Big Ten twice in his tenure, and never went farther than the Sweet 16 in the tournament. He was fired before the 1989 tournament run
Steve Fisher (1989-97): Overall career record at Michigan was 109-79 or a 0.580 winning percentage. His overall conference record while at Michigan was 79-47 or a 0.627 winning percentage. After the improbable tourney run in 1989, he never lead the Wolverines to another title, falling just short in 91-92 and 92-93. He brought in the Fab Five, and later sanctions were put on Michigan leaving the program dead in the water. He also never won a Big Ten regular season championship.
Brian Ellerbe* (1997-2001): Brian Ellerbe took over a Michigan program harmed by sanctions, and didn't heal any of the wounds. He went 28-32 overall as head coach, or a 0.466 winning percentage, and went 10-22 in conference play while coach of the Wolverines, or a 0.313 winning percentage in the conference. He made no NCAA Tournaments, and one NIT.
Tommy Amaker (2001-2007): Tommy Amaker went 108-84 in his overall record at Michigan or a 0.563 winning percentage. His conference record for the Wolverines was 43-53 or a winning percentage of 0.448. He never won a Big Ten Championship, never made the NCAA Tournament, made 3 NITs and won one NIT. He never was successful here, but now runs a good program at Harvard
John Beilein (2007-Present): John Beilein was hired in 2007 and had the task of turning around a dead Michigan basketball program. In his first season his team went 10-22. After the 10-22 season, they went 21-14 with a birth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the year 1996. He went 15-17 in 09-10, but after the abysmal season in 09-10, he lead Michigan to 4 straight tournmanet appearances, which included a National Title appearance, and an elite eight. He has won 2 Big Ten regular season championships in his time here. He was the first coach since Steve Fisher to make 4+ straight NCAA Tournament appearances. He turned around a dead Michigan basketball program into a respectable national program. His overall record at Michigan is 168-110 or a 0.604 winning percentage. His conference record at Michigan is 78-66 or a winning percentage of 0.542. He has won 2 regular B1G championships in his time here.
Why are we so quick to jump on Beilein? Based on all these numbers, Beilein has a better winning percentage than all his predecessors except Frieder. He has performed better in the tournament in Frieder, though. Only Steve Fisher can claim one accomplishment over him, which is a national title, BUT he only coached the tournament, and not the whole season. Beilein is a great coach, and we should maybe give him another year or two of work, before really putting him on the hot seat. If Michigan jumps the gun and fires him too quick, Michigan could be headed back to another era of Ellerbe and Amaker.
*- I don't think it's totally fair to compare Ellerbe's numbers as he took over the team right after the Fab Five scandal, but over the course of his Michigan career his records never improved.
Last night John Beilein made an appearance at the Maize Rage meeting, along with Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. While there, he spoke to us and answered some questions that revealed some pretty interesting tidbits that may not have been talked about much yet. Some of the highlights of what he said:
---DJ Wilson is up 35 pounds. Not sure if that was from when he go here or just over the summer, but it's impressive either way.
---Irvin should return from his back surgery soon, and when he does, it will be the first time their "Core Four" of Irvin, Walton, Caris, and Spike will have all been healthy at the same time since Walton got hurt against Villanova.
---In terms of rotations, he doesn't really expect to expand past playing nine guys even though they have more depth this year. He likes eight man rotations, but because of the depth, will add a ninth spot.
---He said he likes to play guys like Irvin and Walton 30-35 minutes a game to keep them in their rhythm (he only mentioned them as they were sitting right there; I assume that applies to Caris as well, with Spike not far behind). Other than that, he expects the other guys to just fill in minutes where they are available. Based on this, my conjecture for the rotation would be Walton, Irvin, Caris, Spike, Doyle, Dawkins, DJ, Donnal, and one of MAAR or Chatman.
---One guy who's missing? Moritz Wagner. Beilein said he expects him to be really good "one day". Right now he said he's a bit awkward and gets banged around a bunch because he had never lifted weights before in Germany. However, he's up to 228 pounds (up from 210 or 215 when he got to AA, I can't remember which one), and Beilein expects him to be up around 245 soon. Didn't say, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a redshirt coming for Wagner.
---Another guy who's missing: Duncan Robinson. I would expect him to work his way into the rotation at some point, but now Beilein sounded as if that wouldn't happen right away. He said Duncan's shooting numbers in practice compare to Nik Stauskas', but that he is a little tenative and "we're trying to get him to stop asking for permission to shoot." Sounds like once he gains some confidence, he'll be key off the bench.
---He also talked about Austin Hatch and how important he is to the team. He said he works out with the team 2-3 times a week to keep his body in shape, and his role is now doing some things that players/coaches don't have as much time to do (i.e. visits to Mott). He also said he views Austin as another son of his, which was pretty cool.
---Last thing, has nothing to do with the players themselves, but Beilein said he wants to totally revamp player introductions and do something different. He hates the intro videos and how it takes everyone's attention away from the court and up to the video board. This year, he wants to do something involving the students making noise and being pumped up to introduce players, but we're not sure what that would be, and then having a different way to actually call out the players' names.
Other injury updates from his appearance on WTKA this morning.
Beilein believes that by Michigan's opening game on Nov. 13, Albrecht will be "as quick as he's ever been."
Beilein said both Caris LeVert (foot) and Derrick Walton Jr. (toe/foot) have been "really good in their recovery."