Since the Aneurysm of Leadership...

Submitted by jmblue on February 10th, 2019 at 11:05 AM

It was a little over eight years ago (January 27, 2011).  The Michigan team limped into the Breslin with an 11-9 overall record, 1-6 in Big Ten play.    At this point, John Beilein was 57-62 as Michigan's coach, and 23-39 (!) in league competition.  

At that point, the Michigan basketball program had made the NCAA Tournament once since 1998; it had not reached the Sweet 16 since 1994; it had not reached the Final Four since 1993; and it had not won the Big Ten since 1986.  If you were a college student in 2011 you probably had no actual memory of Michigan ever being good at basketball (and some of the games you might have remembered were vacated by the NCAA).  

Entering that 2011 game, Michigan also had not beaten MSU on the road in the 21st century (last time had been 1997) and hadn't beaten them at all in Beilein's tenure.  MSU incidentally was coming off back-to-back Final Fours.

And then this happened.

From that game onward, Beilein is 213-83 overall, 100-50 in Big Ten play, 17-7 in the NCAA Tournament and has won two Big Ten titles, two Big Ten Tournament titles, reached the Sweet 16 four times, and the national championship game twice.  

It's rare that you can find this clear of a watershed moment for a coach/program.



February 10th, 2019 at 11:37 AM ^

Remember when Izzo made the statement that he thought it would great for the State of Michigan to have two good basketball programs?  I think it was around or before this time frame.  It seemed condescending at the time.  I’m guessing he is rethinking that bs.  

What Beilein has done at a time when our in-state rival was powerful is nothing short of remarkable and Zack Novak will always be a key figure of the Beilein era. 

Maizen approves this post.  

matty blue

February 11th, 2019 at 2:28 PM ^

um, yes.  it "seemed condescending."

most of my best friends are state grads, and it delights me to no end that beilein has izzo's number so bad, and that sparty has been so disappointing in the tournament lately.  my buddies are this close to late perles-era resignation about hoops.  "doesn't matter if we have langford or not, we're just going to lose in the second round anyway."

sparty tears are so, so yummy.

Unfiltered Manball

February 10th, 2019 at 3:22 PM ^

Thanks jmblue- this was a turning point for Beilein and the program.

Been a fun number of years for the basketball team.  Especially this season so far!


Can only hope Harbaugh and the football team will follow a similar course.  Consistent yet frustrating first few years, but then hopefully breakthrough wins (OSU) followed by sustained success during the regular season and bowl season.


February 10th, 2019 at 3:40 PM ^

It was huge. So huge that nobody had any idea how much changed. Brian states in the column that Michigan probably wouldn’t even make the NIT that year. 

They made it. Morris went pro. And Beilein managed to recruit Trey Burke. 

No one on their wildest dreams could have imagined what has happened since. 


February 11th, 2019 at 2:36 AM ^

He was instrumental, and the single most important piece, but I would argue that the class of 2012 was the essential addition to Burke and THJ that brought the program back to the forefront of basketball.

Without Stauskas and GR3 and McGary and Levert (and Spike!), they'd have remained a plucky team capable of occasional upsets that was nonetheless unlikely to make it out of the first weekend instead of the juggernaut they'd become for the next two years.

And if the argument is about the first domino, I would say that was Morris.  He was the first top 100 recruit Beilein landed at M (and maybe ever?).  He had PAC12 offers closer to home in Los Angeles but took a chance on playing PG for Beilein, despite Beilein having never sent someone to the NBA (Pittsnogle and Gansey went undrafted and never played in the NBA to my knowledge).

If Stu and Novak were the heart and soul of the 2011 team, Morris was the body that actually made it happen. And the way he was featured was probably a big reason Burke wanted to play for Beilein.

I don't know if it was because Morris left early but he isn't given nearly enough credit for the rise of Michigan basketball.



February 11th, 2019 at 10:41 AM ^

I don't think you're having a disagreement but kind of building on one another's insights. But--just to add--I had moved into suburban midlife and was hungry for some successful Michigan hoops, got very excited when Beilein was hired. What I tend to remember more than games was the profile of some of those teams, and it was--for me, too--Darius "Get Off My Court" Morris' play against MSU and some of his beautiful pick and rolls, with Novak and Douglass playing incredibly gritty hoop alongside him, were when I really began to believe in Beilein and his beautiful brand of basketball. (I still don't think Morris quite gets his due.)

Nothing but thrilling teams, and great kids, have followed. 

P.S. Do you think those MSU frat boys depilated together?


February 11th, 2019 at 3:26 PM ^

Completely agree with this.  Rome wasn't built in a day and the rebuild of the program didn't happen in one day and wasn't attributable to one player.  The steps kind of went like this in my mind:

1) Brought in smart, under-the-radar guys like Stu and Novak and turned them plus Manny Harris plus Sims into a tourney team to breath life into the program.

2) With that life, landed Morris and then THJ and with them plus Stu, Novak and Jmo and took another step forward (beat MSU twice, top 25 in the advanced stats, second weekend of tourney with a real chance to beat Duke, i.e not just a team that was happy to be there).

3) Landed Burke and took another step to win the conference title. Even though that was a pretty lucky title and they weren't actually that much better than the previous season, they started to buy into the fact that they could be champions.

4) Landed the class of 2012 that put the team into elite status the next two seasons.

5) It should be noted that they didn't remain elite because Beilein couldn't replicate that recruiting success regularly.  So the program regressed for a couple years until:

6) Beilein decided to give up control of the defense and hire someone who was better on that side of the ball and we've now had three outstanding seasons in a row without needing top classes and 5 star recruits and the recruiting is now perfectly suited to that kind of program: 50-100ish guys that will stay a few years, work hard and develop.

Those to me are the big milestones in the rebuild and evolution of the program and it was a step-by-step process.


February 11th, 2019 at 3:12 PM ^

This a good point.  Interestingly, Alexander had a terrible second half to his sophomore year under Beilein.  Huggins came in and, according to Alexander's Wikipedia, emphasized strength and conditioning such that Alexander went from 210 lbs to 230 and blossomed once again to point where he was draftable (even though he didn't stick).

I wonder if this was part of the reason Beilein brought in Sanderson.  Does anyone know the story of Beilein and Sanderson's relationship?  The Alexander story makes it sound like S&C wasn't a part of the Beilein program at WVU.

And Beilein also did "send" Manny Harris to the NBA.  But Morris was the first guy he recruited and coached all the way to being drafted, I think.


February 16th, 2019 at 2:25 AM ^

Morris was a game changer, at a time when we did not have any.  He took us by surprise a little, about how he was not just a smart tough player, but actually an elite "Kentucky-level" player.  By the time we figured that out, he was gone.

It's a shame, he does deserve more credit for where Michigan is now.  If he had one more year here, he would have gotten it.

N. Campus Tech

February 10th, 2019 at 3:56 PM ^

FTA: "Beilein's already earned next year, and when they take the inevitable step forward in '11-'12 he'll get year six, and that's got at least a decent chance of working out."

Yeah, that worked out pretty good.


February 10th, 2019 at 5:02 PM ^

Interesting that it was defense that won that game, at least based on the score.

Though that’s the amazing thing with Beilein is that he wins in different ways and isn’t afraid of change.

It would be nice to cap off his career at some point with a title but honestly whatever happens he’s a hall of famer.


February 10th, 2019 at 10:43 PM ^

I'm not sure it was defense. That team played super duper slow, mostly out of necessity. Still, 6/8 from three in that situation is one of the best, gutsiest performances you're ever going to see.

All the great teams Michigan has had in recent years, and even if they win a championship sometime in the future, that 2011 team will always be my favorite team ever.



February 11th, 2019 at 1:11 AM ^

That team actually was pretty good defensively. They were 34th in Torvik.  It was Beilein's best defensive team in the pre-DC/Simpson/Yaklich era.  Better than the 2013 runner up team.

So even with the slow pace, they held that MSU team under 1 ppp.

Stu, Novak and Jordan Morgan were good defenders and plus rebounders and Morris was a tall PG that gave PGs trouble.

That was the one and only Bielien team that won with defense before the past two years.  


February 11th, 2019 at 12:10 PM ^

Beilein's teams almost always rank near the bottom of the country in tempo.  Currently we are 309th.  It has a lot to do with the fact that we commit few turnovers and give up very few fastbreaks.  Teams that commit more turnovers will have more total possessions in a game than we do.


February 10th, 2019 at 5:46 PM ^

Great post and analysis. I won a chicks dig scars t shirt back in '13 in one of those guess the score we used to do around here. Wear it every year for the UM Tournament games. Loved that guy. 


February 10th, 2019 at 10:38 PM ^

JB's first recruits are Stu Douglass and Zack Novak. Both aren't big time recruits with very few D1 offers coming out of HS yet both are instrumental to the Michigan's turnaround from a laughingstock to respectable program. Without them, Michigan might not have been a national championship contender.

It shows us how far Michigan basketball program has come under JB. We were hoping to make the NCAA tournament and now it's expected that we should be a top 10 program.

Boner Stabone

February 11th, 2019 at 9:52 AM ^

This game put me in tears and was one of the most memorable games of my life.  It was also the day I had to put my dog down and I remember on the ride over to the vet telling my dog to let God know the boys need a little help tonight at the Breslin and to let God know when you get to heaven that they need a victory.  After the game was over, I knew my dog had made it to heaven and got the message to God.  


February 11th, 2019 at 12:14 PM ^

Distinctly remember watching this in my dorm room in South Quad... as well as the shouts of joy that rang out through the halls when Stu hit the dagger 3 with 20 seconds left. It had felt like Michigan couldn't get any breaks. Football at a low with RR just fired, and people were saying Beilein was in hot water. Michigan led the whole damn game and then looked like they were going to choke it away in the last minute. Beyond the Aneurysm of Leadership, Novak had a truly heroic performance, going 6-8 from 3 for 19 points.


February 11th, 2019 at 7:29 PM ^

Thank you for this. 

The records after that game is what really got me.

How about just one national championship, just one. Sure I would love more but you can't have more if you don't start with one.


February 12th, 2019 at 5:20 PM ^

I was a student from '05-'09 and the big highlights in my tenure were that we won the NIT in back to back years and beat Illinois on the road under Amaker. It is easy to forget how far we have come, and how much this program was built on guys like Novak during the early Beilein years.

My other favorite Novak moment was this:

While this was his first and only year in college, everyone knew by then that you do not get between Blake Griffin and the basket, lest you get dunked on. As soon as Blake got the outlet pass I immediately thought: "please Zack, do not try to defend this" because I knew Zack Novak did not consider that he was most likely going to be decimated by a thunderous Blake Griffin dunk. His only thought as a 6' 4" guy, going up against a 6' 10" athlete who could leap out of the gym, was that he needed to get back and try to draw a charge (he did not), because that is what his team needed.

And that is what leaders do: whatever is necessary for their team.


February 16th, 2019 at 2:40 AM ^

Remember the excitement when we finally made the NCAA tournament? 

The selection show kept cutting in to footage of the players and coaches in their brown leather chairs on the floor of Crisler with a crowd of students, nervously watching each seed go up without "Michigan" on the bracket.

It was down to the very last seeding, the rest of the bracket was all announced.  Get the call or stay home.

When Michigan was announced, the crowd exploded.  It felt like we won a championship.    


February 16th, 2019 at 2:11 AM ^

Wow, this is an amazing post.

From:  The Michigan team limped into the Breslin with an 11-9 overall record, 1-6 in Big Ten play.    At this point, John Beilein was 57-62 as Michigan's coach, and 23-39 (!) in league competition.

To:  Beilein is 213-83 overall, 100-50 in Big Ten play, 17-7 in the NCAA Tournament and has won two Big Ten titles, two Big Ten Tournament titles, reached the Sweet 16 four times, and the national championship game twice. 

There is a lot of revisionist history by the MGoBlog Hall Monitors who claim now they just "knew" that everything was going to be OK with John Beilein, and lecture that we just had to be patient and championships would be on their way.

No they didn't.

Criticism of John Beilein at that time was justified.  The results were not there.  The recruiting to get the results was not there.  The coaching was not there.  The scheme to compete with Final Four teams like MSU was not there.

And there was little evidence that it was coming.

But wow, come it eventually did.

I've been following college sports since the '70s and I have never seen anything like it.  Nothing even close.

John Beilein changed his recruiting.  He changed his coaches.  He changed his system - multiple times.  He got the results.

Tommy Amaker could not do it.  Rich Rod and Brady Hoke in fooball could not do it.  Few college coaches in any sport could ever do it.

But John Beilein did it.  Despite outward appearances and early years of futility, he is a stunningly innovative coach. 

He gets all the credit in the world for being able to change his stripes . . . multiple times. 

He went from an early "outside-in" perimeter and back door cuts game, to and "inside-out" drive to the rim and score or kick out game.  He went from reliance on offense to reliance on defense.  He can even post up now.

He has caught up in recruiting to everybody in the Big Ten and just about everybody in the nation.  Without a bag man.

The results have been amazing and unprecedented from the prior dark period.

Who knew?

Put your hand down, no you didn't.