I will be honest, when we lost Derrick Walton Jr, Zak Irvin, and DJ Wilson this past off-season, my expectations were tampered for the 2017-18 campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I trust John Beilein more than you can imagine, but it seemed as if there were more questions going into the season than answers. Who would start at point guard? How would Charles Matthews fit in? Who would help Moe out in the front court? These were all very fair questions heading into the year.
In late November when Michigan traveled into Chapel Hill to face the defending National Champion, UNC Tar Heels, it was a measuring stick game for fans and coaches alike. As Beilein rapidly rotated bodies in to try to find the right chemistry, the result was a swift butt whooping that proved how much work was in store just to make this an NCAA Tournament caliber team.
Fast Forward to Saturday night in Los Angeles as Michigan cut down the nets in Staples Center — maize and blue confetti flying for the second time in less then a month — this time celebrating a Final Four birth. The team that had no identity to start the year has developed into a tenacious defensive club riding a 13 game winning streak.
No matter your profession or age, we can all take a lesson out of John Beilein’s book. At age 65, he has completely adapted his coaching philosophy to incorporate a hard-nosed defense that was invisible up until last season. And he hasn’t done it on his own either — it started with hiring defensive ace, Billy Donlon last season, and carried over with Luke Yaklich this season. Yaklich has transformed Michigan’s defense and it proves that as much as Beilein teaches, he isn’t afraid to step back and be the student too.
Remember in past seasons when Michigan had to hit double-digit threes just to be in games against superior foes? Now when they are clicking offensively, they run teams off the court… just ask Texas A&M. Michigan hasn’t brought their A-game very often this tournament, but the common denominator in all four games is defense.
Michigan is so incredibly fortunate to have John Beilein as their head basketball coach and he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. I grew up just short of the 1989 National Title and Fab 5, so these are my glory days of Michigan Basketball. Sweet 16 trips in 4 of 6 seasons and final four births in 2 of 6 doesn’t happen by mistake and its all thanks to Coach B.
No matter what happens in San Antonio, this season has been an overwhelming success, but there is unfinished business. Two banners will be hung in Crisler as it is, but we want a third one… a National Title and some redemption from 2013.