Hoops Preview 2014-15: Gardening Lessons Comment Count

Ace October 14th, 2014 at 2:12 PM

[Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

John Beilein tends his garden. Yet another year of turnover means another year of intense cultivation.

He once had a Shooter, which bloomed into a stunning Not Just A Shooter™. His Tantalizing Athlete blossomed into an Emphatic Finisher. The Quiet Generic Big Man, through years of care, sprouted into an Imposing Leader of Men and Taker of No Shit. Only the Magnus Catulus failed to effloresce into something entirely different; even the greatest gardener can't control the weather.

Michigan enters the 2014-15 season in a familiar position, loaded with talent but forced to reload. Gone to the NBA are Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary; Jordan Morgan's brought his salty style of basketball to Italy; Jon Horford's on-court meditation sessions will now take place in Gainesville.

The Wolverines roster isn't barren, of course. The string bean that was Caris LeVert is now a guru-approved NBA lottery prospect, and he's much less stringy, too. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin promise growth in their second years on campus. Spike Albrecht's steady hand will once again be available off the bench. A bevy of young big men of all shapes and sizes hope to fill the void left by the trio of departing centers.

I cannot and will not forget that the Bench Mob—led by the exuberant Andrew Dakich—returns in force, which brings me to the other Emerson quote I considered placing atop this post.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

John Beilein may run a sophisticated offense that takes time and great discipline to master, but the aura around his program has always been one of a loose, joyful group. It's infectious. It's changed the feeling of going to the Crisler Center as much as the exquisite renovations. Hell, it's carrying fans through football season, even as uncertainty again looms over the basketball team.

I don't know if Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, Max Bielfeldt, and DJ Wilson are a suitable set of big men to make another title run in what of late has been the nation's best basketball conference. I don't know if the loss of Stauskas will leave Michigan one shot-creator short of having another elite offense. I don't know if Kam Chatman can step into GRIII's spot and replace his production. I don't know if Derrick Walton will take a Burkeian sophomore leap. I don't know if Zak Irvin is really more than Just A Shooter. I don't know if last year's regression on defense can be reversed with such a young rotation.

I'm comfortable with not knowing, however, because this isn't the first time. There's plenty I do know, as well. I know that Michigan posted the best adjusted offensive efficiency in the history of KenPom last season, when they had to replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

I know that the last time the Wolverines weren't considered a preseason top-three Big Ten team, they went 13-5 to grab a share of the conference crown. This season, with Wisconsin the heavy favorites over a jumble of teams with serious question marks, it appears Michigan will be in the same position.

I know that John Beilein is coaching this team, and that means I have no need to worry.

I know, above all, that basketball season will be fun. This isn't the highest bar to set, but as we've learned all too well from football, it's far from the lowest.

There are 27 days until Michigan opens the season with an exhibition against Wayne State. In that span, I'll be writing a lot of preview content, and much of it will focus on the questions this team must answer to live up to the standard that Beilein has created in Ann Arbor.

There's no question about this, however: it's time to start getting excited, because Beilein's green thumb will once again dig up those virtues most other coaches would never discover.



October 14th, 2014 at 2:16 PM ^

excited here, too.

I just wanted to comment on how your writing has grown over the past few years. You're consistently an enjoyable read.  



October 14th, 2014 at 2:19 PM ^

I'm not sure if you remember ace, but I did a bunch of previews on B1G basketball teams in the diaries. Do you think you or one of the mods could time stamp those to move them back? Instead of me just reposting them?

Blue in Yarmouth

October 14th, 2014 at 2:26 PM ^

this is what competent (actually excellent) coaching feels like. If only we could get someone on the football staff that would yield results such that we would expecting year to year jumps in talent the way we do in BBall. It used to be the opposite and BBall was where recruits went to regress. I guess that give us hope at any rate.

turd ferguson

October 14th, 2014 at 2:32 PM ^

My fear for this season is that it's going to be really hard for us - myself definitely included - to get past the "what could have been?" question.  It would have been so fun to see a roster with Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson, Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, Spike Albrecht, and all of these young guys.  Hell, Trey Burke still could be here, though that obviously wasn't going to happen.

I'm excited to see what Beilein can do with this group and whether they can spectacularly surpass expectations yet again.  I just kind of wish we could have seen that in 2015-16 after watching a Beilein-coached NBA team tear apart college basketball this season.  

Oh, well.  As Ace said, I'll (very) gladly take this compared to what it could be.


October 14th, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

In my mind, the only "what could have been?" in that group is McGary. Nik and Trey worked their tails off for two years, become lottery picks and went pro, good for them. They gave a lot to U of M basketball and deserve to cash in.

While Glenn may not have had as big an impact, I don't think anyone expected him to stick around for 3+ years. He showed up, worked hard and while he never lived up to the potential we all thought he had he seemed to never complain, kept showing up and kept producing.

McGary is the big what if. He was quite possibly the most hyped recruit Michigan has gotten in awhile and we got only the briefest glimpse of his potential during that magical tournament run. We saw him sidelined with injuries than forced to go pro due to some archaic NCAA rule that has since been amended.

But this is college basketball, I know I thought early on that Beilein wouldn't bring in enough talent, and now he is and the talent is doing what they do in college basketball, leaving early. Maybe its because I have never had the same expectations for basketball as I do for football, but just enjoy the ride and the players that are here, don't think about the what could have beens.


October 14th, 2014 at 5:20 PM ^

When I said no one expected him to stick around for 3+ years I was more talking about when he first got on campus. I was sure that Glenn was way too talented a player to stick around for 3 years based on all the recruiting hype. I think you can talk about what could have been for Glenn's first two years, but I find it difficult personally to say what could have been when I never had any initial expectations of Glenn being here 3 or more years.


October 14th, 2014 at 2:48 PM ^

I know what a Magnus is, but what's a Magnus Catulus? By the way, Catulus Magnus has a sweet facebook page. He could actually be the world's most interesting man.


October 14th, 2014 at 3:00 PM ^

back in the 2012-13 season, about half way through, when people were discussing whether it was a good idea to burn LeVert's redshirt, considering that 5th year might be really valuable?

That was cute.

Voltron is Handsome

October 14th, 2014 at 3:06 PM ^

I'm nervous for this season considering the guys we lost to the draft, but then I keep reminding myself that we have one of the best coaches in the country. I felt the same before last season started and they turned out to be one of the best teams. Plus, we have two good freshmen from last year returning as starting sophomores, along with one of the most improved players (from his freshman to sophomore year) in the country, LeVert. I think this team will be pretty good, but not as good as the last two. Winning the Big Ten again is certainly doable and absolutely acceptable.


October 14th, 2014 at 3:51 PM ^

My main enjoyment from watching sports is quality ball.  Technique, strategy, teamwork, effort.  I can take some clunky learning curve as long as the show is two teams playing out of their minds.  This is blasphemy but I can take a close loss if it leaves my heart full.  I mean I never want it but I see beyond just wins and losses.  I'll take a blowout win but I don't feel anyone gains anything by it.  The football team is full of guys with grit and bless them for it, but they're badly utilized, horribly coached and criminally mismanaged.  But more importantly, they're not getting the benefit of quality ball.

With Beilein, and in stark contrast to Hoke, what I'd usually think of as "problems" are just "challenges", as in, HOW is he going to deal with it?  Because while I can't promise on his behalf it'll work, there's no doubt he's already working on it.  And man, how many times has Beilein shot himself in the foot?  I don't know if Michigan's had a single loss where the blame could be placed solely on him.  They've maybe been overmatched at times but Beilein is the epitome of giving players the best chance to win.

This season's turnover is very lopsided -- we lost all our big men AND best player in one fell swoop.  So, I dunno, we should be ready for a letdown, if wins were all that mattered.  But if you watch for any reason other than expectations of success, our basketball program is sure to entertain.  It's a well-coached team that's gonna play out of their minds.


October 14th, 2014 at 4:37 PM ^

I'm with you.  My expectations are lowered this year - we lost 60% of just about every statistic to the NBA/graduation.  But what I do know is I will see young players improving individually, a team that is far better 3 months into the season than it is on day 1, players reaching towards their individual talent ceilling, stratagies that make sense, timeouts at sensible times, etc etc.  It may be a 17-12 (10-8) type of year but it will make sense.  And we'll have plenty of glimpses of young players making special plays that we can be excited both for this year and for what it means for the following year.  Rather than expect regression as is now commonplace in our other major program.

After Wisconsin I think there are 7-8 teams that ALL could finish anywhere from 2nd to about 8th place and the Big 10 records will be from 11-7 to 8-10.   So every game is going to be worth watching.



October 14th, 2014 at 11:01 PM ^

The nice thing is that if that season materializes we probably only lose Lavert and the next year will be special.

This year will be fun mainly because like you I expect we'll see a different team at the end of the year. Nobody will want to play this program.

Basketball shooters uber alles.


October 14th, 2014 at 3:12 PM ^

College basketball teams take on new identities every single year.  I absolutely loved me some JMo.  Stauskas was the kind of player where I was constantly thinking "it is so awesome that this guy is on our side."  But the exciting thing about an approaching new hoops season is wondering who's going to capture our attention this year, and how?  LeVert?  Irvin?  Donnal?  Chatman?  Eeeeeeeee Beilein.


October 14th, 2014 at 3:32 PM ^

because players actually develop and overachieve regularly. You know the team is going to make you smile.

I've been through so many years of football and hockey being 'loaded' with talent only to see it flounder on the field/ice. It's just pleasant to watch the basketball team play


October 14th, 2014 at 3:34 PM ^

I love that our image of our basketball coach makes the opening of this a perfect metaphor.  I'm sure he's out working hard doing basketball things all the time and not actually just tending to his garden and teaching chemistry on the side, but it feels like he's doing the latter two.


October 14th, 2014 at 5:03 PM ^

"I know that John Beilein is coaching this team, and that means I have no need to worry."

And isn't it nice to have that confidence, knowing that the guy with his hand on the wheel knows exactly what he's doing?


October 14th, 2014 at 5:16 PM ^

but I hope some people don't take it for granted.  Beilein is a great coach and deserves tons of credit, but some of the success has to be credited to the players.  Not all are capable of picking up the system and translating it into success.  Fortunately, I think Beilein has done a better job of finding those kinds of players that can deliver.


October 14th, 2014 at 5:23 PM ^

Great write-up Ace, definitely looking forward to the season.

I know, above all, that basketball season will be fun. This isn't the highest bar to set, but as we've learned all too well from football, it's far from the lowest.

Well said.


October 14th, 2014 at 5:37 PM ^

My main question is, "Which player is going to be the surprise this year?"

It seems like someone makes the "Beilien Leap" every year; I can't imagine it not happening this year.


October 14th, 2014 at 6:43 PM ^

Basketball season is a great sign of relief for Michigan supporters. I have know doubt that John Beline will work his magic and turn the team into a big ten title contender.


October 14th, 2014 at 10:21 PM ^

I'm going into this season with a weird sense of calm and no expectations. This team should not feel pressure -- too young, too much talent left to the NBA and so many unknowns.

I just want to enjoy watching them develop and grow as the season progresses. And when we play Indiana, be so thankful we have Coach Beilein.