John Beilein: The Coach That Revived Michigan Basketball

Story posted February 16, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Joe Garofalo

March 27th, 1994. A date that not only marked the ended of the storied “Fab Five” for Michigan basketball, but also the last time the program made it out of the Round of 32. On that day in 1994, Michigan lost to Arkansas in the Midwest Regional Final in Dallas, Texas.

After unsuccessful coaching stints by Brian Ellerbe (1997-2001) and Tommy Amaker (2001-2007), the Wolverines turned the program over to John Beilein on April 3, 2007. In the midst of their last season of NCAA scholarship reductions, after the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan struggled in the former West Virginia Head Coach’s first season posting a 10-22 overall record. 

But the program’s fortunes would change in the 2008-09 season as the Wolverines enjoyed a great deal of success in Beilein’s second season.

After early wins versus two top-five teams, UCLA (November 20th) and Duke (December 6th), Michigan would join the top 25 in national rankings on December 22, its first top 25 ranking since February 6th, 2006.

Despite the fact Michigan didn’t finish the year ranked, they continued to progress throughout the year and ultimately reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 seasons. Posting a record of 20-13 (9-9 in Big Ten), Michigan entered the 2009 tournament as a No. 10 seed where they would take on seven seed Clemson.

Entering the game as the underdog versus their ACC opponent, Beilein had his team ready to play and they won the game 62-59 sending the Wolverines to second round where two seed Oklahoma led by Blake Griffin was waiting for them. The Sooners proved to be too much for Manny Harris and the Wolverines as Oklahoma won 73-63, sending Michigan home with 21 wins on the season.

Unfortunately, the Wolverines would suffer yet another set back in the 2009-2010 season as Michigan failed to reach a postseason tournament despite two wins versus ranked teams in Ohio State and Connecticut. They finished the year with a 15-17 record leaving many to believe the next season had little promise.

Without a single senior on the roster for the 2010-11 season Michigan was not expected to make a lot of noise within the Big Ten that season on, and early on that proved to be true.

Starting conference play at 1-6, Beilein and the Wolverines were struggling mightily. But that was before something clicked and the Michigan went on to win eight of its next 11 conference games.

Winning one game in the Big Ten tournament that year, before losing to Ohio State, Michigan would enter the NCAA tournament with an identical record as to what they had two years prior, 20-13.  

Much like their previous tournament run, the Wolverines would get out of the first round after beating Tennessee 75-45. Unfortunately waiting for them was the No. 1 seeded Duke Blue Devils.

In a tightly contested game the Blue Devils managed to escape the game 73-71 as Michigan missed a shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. The Wolverines would finish the year 21-14.

In 2011-12 the Michigan program under John Beilein really began to take off and begin its return to standing it once had prior to 1995. Beginning the season ranked in the top 25, Michigan never looked back.

After a strong regular season backed by great conference play, the Wolverines enterd the NCAA tournament with a 24-9 record going 13-5 in the Big Ten. The season marked Beilein’s third 20-win season with the team and positioned them for a three seed in the tournament.

Unfortunately, the Wolverines fell victim to the classic NCAA tournament trap game upset and lost to No. 14 seed Ohio Bobcats in the first round. The final score was 65-60 leaving many Michigan faithful to begin to doubt whether the Wolverines and Beilein could enjoy sustained tournament success.

The 2012-13 season brought a new level of hype and hope to the Michigan program. Bringing in its first top 25 recruiting class under Beilein, Michigan looked poised to one of the better teams in the country.

Loaded with top talent and a great coach, Michigan opened the season as the 5th ranked team in the country. And after starting the year 16-0 it became clear this was likely to be the first great team in Michigan basketball history since those “Fab Five” teams of the early 1990’s.

Playing in the best conference in college basketball this season, the Wolverines have been tested and have struggled on the road thus far. Losing to Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State all on the road, Michigan now stands at 21-4 (8-4 in Big Ten) while being ranked amongst the top 10 teams in the country.

Known for his offensive system, which is based on constant motion, crisp passing, disciplined teamwork and precision shooting, Beilein has by his most talented team in his six season at Michigan. The Wolverines possess a lot of great young talent led by Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, and look primed to make a serious run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

John Beilein came to a Michigan program in the midst of a controversy both on the court and off, and over his first six seasons he has restored the Michigan program to level of greatness it once held. Now the only question that remains, is can Beilein lead the Wolverines to their first Sweet Sixteen since 1994? That remains to be seen.

Joe Garofalo is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, e-mail joepgarofalo@gmail.com.