Spoiler alert. [Bryan Fuller]
John Beilein has spent ten seasons in Ann Arbor. As of the most recent, he's the winningest coach in program history with 215. He snapped Michigan's post-sanction tournament drought in 2009, the first of seven NCAA appearances with the Wolverines, three of which have extended at least into the second weekend.
In recognition of the above, as well as the need for offseason #content, I've put together a series of All-Beilein teams, inspired by this twitter post and the ensuing conversation. My guidelines:
- I'm attempting to put together the best possible lineups, which isn't necessarily the same as picking the best individual players at each spot.
- I'm choosing individual player vintages (i.e. 2013 Trey Burke). A player can only be chosen once for each category, but different player years (i.e. freshman bench gunner 2014 Zak Irvin and well-rounded senior 2017 Zak Irvin) can be eligible for separate categories.
- The same player/year can be chosen for multiple categories—for instance, 2013 Mitch McGary making the All-Bench team doesn't exclude him from making the final All-Beilein team.
Eligibility for certain categories may be slightly fudged because of the limited pool of players.
I'm not putting too many constraints on myself for this exercise since the point is to let our imaginations run wild. Today's list is simple: here are the best freshman seasons from Beilein's players. The starting lineup may be familiar.
POINT GUARD: 2011-12 TREY BURKE
M didn't skip a beat with Trey Burke replacing Darius Morris. [Eric Upchurch]
When Darius Morris, who sometimes butted heads with Beilein, departed for the NBA after his breakout sophomore season, it looked like Michigan would face a prolonged transition period at point guard. With no suitable replacement on the current roster, the new PG would be a freshman. Trey Burke wasn't even the highest-ranked guard in Beilein's 2011 recruiting class; that was Southfield slasher Carlton Brundidge, who finished six spots ahead of Burke in the composite rankings (87th to 93rd).
From the very start, Burke was a revelation. He led the team in scoring, assists, and steals, fully embracing the role of lead dog despite his youth. He took control of Beilein's notoriously complicated offense in a way no other Michigan point guard has been able to replicate in their first year. One of his best games of the year was one on of the biggest stages when he dropped 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, drilled a game-tying three from way beyond the arc (foreshadowing, that) down the stretch, assisted on Stu Douglass' eventual game-winner, and played a central role in Michigan's brilliant final defensive possession:
Even when Burke took his game to a new level and won national player of the year honors as a sophomore, his freshman year stood as his most surprising. Needless to say, we've forgiven Beilein for missing on his Brundidge evaluation.
Honorable Mention: 2013-14 Derrick Walton. The cycle continued as Walton stepped into the starting lineup to replace Burke, who'd departed for the NBA long before anyone expected him to when he first got to campus. Walton was in a cushier situation, however, with the Stauskas/LeVert/GRIII troika shouldering much of the offensive load. He played his role well, nailing 41% of his threes, making some impressive transition buckets, and—like Burke—saving one of his best performances for M's biggest rivalry game.
[Hit THE JUMP.]
WING: 2010-11 TIM HARDAWAY JR.
Even with an All-NBA father, Hardaway was an under-the-radar recruit. [Fuller]
Despite being the son of Mr. Killer Crossover, Tim Hardaway Jr. was merely a three-star when he got to campus in 2011, taking second billing in a class headlined by Evan Smotrycz.
Hardaway asserted himself immediately as an unabashed gunner, something Michigan desperately needed following the departures of leading scorers Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. He took on the biggest shot share of anyone on the team, finished second to Morris in scoring, and made 48% of his twos and 37% of his threes.
While Hardaway's confidence in his shot would be a point of contention during his sophomore slump the following season, it was exactly what the 2010-11 squad required. He played a huge role in getting Michigan back to the tournament; once there, he played an integral part in that season's most iconic photo.
Honorable Mention: 2013-14 Zak Irvin. Speaking of unabashed gunners, Irvin embodied the Just A Shooter™ stereotype like no other Beilein player, coming off the bench to launch 146 of his 196 shots from beyond the arc and making them at a 43% clip. He barely registered other stats; on that team, that was just fine.
WING: 2012-13 NIK STAUSKAS
Not Just A Shooter™, even as a freshman. [Fuller]
Yet another gem unearthed by Beilein, Nik Stauskas was imported from Canada as the #83 overall player in the 2012 class. He not only filled the outside scoring role left by departed program stalwarts Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, he scored at a level neither of those players attained despite playing third banana to the two gentlemen already on this list.
As a complementary player, Stauskas was ruthlessly efficient. He was one of the deadliest spot-up shooters in the country with an eFG% of 64.6 on such shots, per Synergy. (Have I mentioned my new toy? We have Synergy access now and I couldn't be more excited about it.) When Burke needed a possession off, Stauskas was even more effective than the player of the year as a pick-and-roll ballhandler—the following year, we'd learn that was no fluke.
Facing a team with so much talent, it was hard to account for Stauskas, as Florida learned in the most painful possible fashion in the tourney:
Honorable Mention: 2014-15 Aubrey Dawkins. The son of longtime NBA player and then-Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins was way off the recruiting radar, landing at #325 in the composite rankings for the 2014 class. With a sweet shooting stroke and bounce reminiscent of GRIII, Dawkins was instant offense off the bench, averaging seven points on 54/43/87 shooting splits. Just, uh, don't ask about his defense.
NOTE: I didn't include Manny Harris, who played a far bigger role with far less efficiency than Dawkins, because he was originally an Amaker commit, but if you want to include him here I won't quibble. He was a better player than Dawkins whose numbers were hurt by being on a much worse team.
WING: 2012-13 GLENN ROBINSON III
When GRIII cut baseline, he created posters. [Fuller]
While Glenn Robinson III ended up as the five-star headliner of the 2012 class, he chose Michigan before he'd made the leap from three-star—again, despite having an NBA standout for a father.
Robinson's spectacular athleticism translated quite well to the college game. At 6'6", 210, he was strong enough to play the four—his defense was always overlooked at Michigan—which allowed him to be a matchup nightmare on the other end of the floor. He made just enough corner threes to keep defenses honest, making him a destructive force on baseline cuts; per Synergy, he was 48-for-65 finishing off cuts, one of the best marks in the country.
Oh, and he assembled a hell of a highlight reel:
While Robinson's offense largely derived from creation by Burke, Stauskas, et al, his contributions still feel overlooked in retrospect. There's the aforementioned defense, and Robinson was also active on the offensive boards; The Shot never happens if GRIII doesn't grab a loose ball and make an improbable reverse layup in the final minute against Kansas.
Honorable Mention: 2008-09 Zack Novak. A member of the OG Beilein recruiting class, Novak gets somewhat awkwardly slotted at the four here, which is fitting. Novak had to do that plenty as a freshman on a team with Sims as the only reliable big man. He tied with Harris and Douglass for the most threes on the team, and he posted the best percentage of the three. The leadership aneurysms would come later, but freshman Novak showed a lot of what he would become by the end of his time in Ann Arbor.
CENTER: 2012-13 MITCH MCGARY
McGary had an incredible tournament run in 2013. [Fuller]
I'm just going to copy-and-paste his writeup from the All-Bench team:
The most-prized recruit to sign with Beilein, McGary is the clear choice at center. He only started twice as a freshman in the regular season before getting unleashed in the NCAA Tournament, where he put together the best run of play we've seen from a Michigan center under Beilein.
McGary scored in bunches, tallying 20+ against VCU and Kansas. He was a hellbeast on the boards, grabbing four or more offensive rebounds in three tournament games. After never tallying more than two assists in a college game, he had six operating from the middle of Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone in the Final Four. In the previous game, he had five steals against Florida. He protected the rim. He led fast breaks. He threw Unseldian outlet passes. He made inexplicably beautiful hustle plays. He set bone-rattling screens. He survived an unprovoked dick punch.
Freshman McGary was a supernova. He burned out after just eight more games, leaving us with a 6'10", 250-pound hole of what-if.
Honorable Mention: 2010-11 Jordan Morgan. Famously, even Jordan Morgan's dad was surprised that Jordan Morgan got a Michigan scholarship, but after a redshirt year, Morgan started all 35 games at center in 2010-11. Immediately the team's best rebounder, he was also a reliable finisher—yes, even with the occasional missed bunny—and finished third on the team in scoring, often as the recipient of Darius Morris dishes out of the pick-and-roll. Morris gets a lot of credit for prompting Beilein to heavily utilize the high ball screen, but that doesn't happen without a big man who can be a viable threat off the roll; Morgan fit the bill, then worked his tail off to develop into an excellent defender, as well.
I'm going to start including a section in these posts about how each of these lineups would play together and how good they would be. I didn't do this for the All-Bench team, which would be a four-out, one-in offense with McGary as the screen-and-destroy wrecking ball surrounded by good shooters; its defense would lean heavily on McGary covering for his supporting cast. The All-Bench Mob squad would have impeccable chemistry and be a sight to behold, of course.
We have a very good idea how the All-Freshman team would fit together: it's Michigan's 2013 Final Four squad with younger, slightly worse versions of Burke and Hardaway. (This wasn't my intent at the outset, though I can't be surprised that's how it played out.) Had they all arrived in the same class, we'd be talking about them in the same breath as the Fab Five.
The honorable mention squad boasts good outside shooting but lacks a player who can consistently create his own shot. Derrick Walton would have to handle the ball a lot more than he did in his actual freshman year. They'd be undersized and underwhelming on defense—standard fare with a group of freshmen.