Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
It is certainly possible that Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense could confuse the Michigan freshmen, meaning that the Wolverines may end their great season with just a Final Four appearance on Saturday. In the age of the 24-hour sports news cycle, most of the basketball pundits will be quick to point out that John Beilein has never beaten Syracuse during his time at West Virginia and it will likely raise discussions about his ability to coach on the biggest stage against the Hall of Famer. But before we get to the Final Four, let’s take a few moments to recognize the Michigan head man for his performance this season. Regardless of the result on Saturday, Beilein has not only proven that he is one of the best coaches in the nation, but more importantly, he has proven that he trusts his players and can incorporate their diverse skills into his offensive sets to field a competitive team. The following are two reasons why Beilein deserves to be respected as a players’ coach.
- He handled each of his freshmen in a different but effective manner. Recruiting a top-15 freshman class does not guarantee success because the coach needs to earnestly handle expectations about playing time and keep his talented players satisfied throughout the season. Kentucky’s John Calipari has somehow mastered this art of coaching freshmen but not every coach knows how to effectively use his available talent. Every one of Michigan’s “fresh five” is unique and Beilein did an excellent job in building a cohesive team by making each a key contributor this season. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III were supposed to be the studs from this class but few expected Nik Stauskas to take off offensively the way he did. As soon as Beilein recognized Stauskas’ strengths as not just a three-point shooter, but also as an effective ball-handler in the half-court, he did not hesitate to increase his playing time in December. Robinson’s skill set is very similar to that of Tim Hardaway Jr. because both have the athleticism to attack the basket and shoot from beyond the arc. Beilein did an excellent job of handling both of their expectations about roles in the offense and neither showed any outward sign of frustration. McGary’s development over the course of the season has been well-documented but Beilein kept him motivated in practice and once he noticed that his confidence began to grow in February, he immediately changed his offensive sets to include McGary’s strengths in the pick-and-roll with Trey Burke. Jordan Morgan’s injury also paved the path for McGary’s minutes but once Morgan came back into the rotation, the head coach stuck with the freshman, which has clearly paid off during the NCAA Tournament. Most old-school coaches may have gone back to the more experienced player in that situation, but Beilein knew something that most of us didn’t because McGary has played lights out in March. Even the other freshman, Caris Lavert and Spike Albrecht, played just enough minutes over the past few weeks to be in a position to contribute whenever needed. Every one of the freshmen has played a key role at some point during the season and it proves that Beilein knows how to handle different players with different skills. Read the rest of this entry »