Whither M Basketball? We’ve been treading water for several years now, and it’s getting tiresome. But first, the good stuff: it feels so good to beat State. I’ll admit it, though, it feels great just to see that game, one of the best rivalries in the midwest. Yes, MSU is down, caught in some weird sturm-and-drang which appears to have also partially infected MSU football.
But Michigan basketball is still off track. What’s odd is that the problem might parallel Rich Rod’s problem: Beilein is not used to the larger stage, and the burlier, more entrenched competition he’s encountered in the Big Ten. But I don’t think that’s all of it.
It might be his odd “throw it up whenever you want” offense — odd, because it seems so clearly predicated on a sort of calcified “we’re always an underdog” philosophy Beilein has imported from WVU. This M team is not, and has never been, precocious from the 3-point stripe, though Novak lit it up against State, but Beilein still sticks with that approach. In that sense he’s a bit of the same “one-trick pony” that RR showed himself to be.
But I don’t think Beilein’s obsession with his only offensive strategy is necessarily a bad thing. The more negative factor is that, apparently, he can’t recruit a big man. It was true at WVU (Pittsnogle was a slightly clumsy but clever overachiever), and it’s true here.
I’m going to take a guessing-stab at a factor: Beilein would be great coaching in a CYO league, but I am beginning to wonder whether his “furrowed-brow, white-man, wound-tight” approach can mesh with some of the inner-city blacks who populate the college game. Let me be more specific — and this is Beilein’s primary defect, I think: he publicly berates his players, continuously, throughout the game. He took it to a didactic, showy extreme against State; at one point, he spun around and began pointing and lecturing the bench players, about some defect in the performance Beilein had discerned amongst the M on-the-court five! It’s this showy, in-your-face need to “instruct” his players about execution, combined with Beilein’s obsessive need to control, that results in Beilein repeated showing-up and embarrassing his own players in full public (even TV) view.’ It’s rinky-dink, and counter-productive, and rude to his players who — almost always — are pushing as hard as they can. He has to stop it. I have no insider info, but I’ve always thought that this had been a major factor for players like Manny Harris and possibly DeShawn Sims.
Connie Mack, the great baseball manager of the last century, said that he always resisted his temptation to immediately correct his players’ performance; he had his own rule, as I recall, that any such advice/instruction had to wait 24 hours. This way, he found himself only communicating the most important information, and he found that his players were much more receptive, in a non-game setting. Beilein needs to change his act, and quick.
But Tom Izzo. The other night he looked like a pasty, puffy-eyed bartender out of Anatomy of A Murder; he also looked like he was about to cry. Which he probably should do, at this point. By the end of the game, he looked like he was going to die.
And with a guy like Kalin Lucas (even post-Achilles) out on the front of his offense — and Lucas’ lower-body control is right up there with that of Isaiah Thomas and Randy Smith — all of them always moving like limousines on a boulevard — that MSU offense shouldn’t be as chaotic as it was against Michigan. Izzo – who is a superb coach and a fine person — has some serious problems.
But let’s celebrate here the M/MSU game celebrity: Darrius Morris. He looks like Byron Scott, with a cross-over dribble (which Scott never had — he was as narrow a player as has been as a coach), and Morris managed that game as well as any point guard could. He played under control, unselfishly, but also kept his eyes open across the entire court for any unfolding opportunity. A masterful performance.