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Neal Rothschild: The time John Beilein sang ‘The Victors’

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 22, 2014

MILWAUKEE — To get John Beilein to accept credit, you have to tie him down and drop it on him. Any other way, he’ll find a way to deflect it.

That’s more or less what the Michigan men’s basketball players did in the locker room Saturday night after defeating Texas, 79-65, to advance to the Sweet 16.

In the moments after Beilein’s 700th career win, they made him sing “The Victors” — no easy feat given that Beilein’s the guy to elect the singer each game.

“We had to force him,” said sophomore guard Nik Stauskas.

When Beilein hits a career milestone, he seems annoyed that round numbers exist. When he won Big Ten Coach of the Year, he looked like he’d rather spit on the trophy than hold it.

“To me, to do that, that was difficult,” Beilein said about the postgame vocals. “I wanted Jordan Morgan to sing it. I’ve asked them to do it many times, but one time the coach had to do it.”

***

Saturday night’s game, more than any other, highlighted coaching. There was only one day to prepare for Texas. Assistant Coach LaVall Jordan scouted the Longhorns at the BMO Harris Bradley Center after the Wolverines defeated Wofford on Thursday, and from there, it was a race against the 4:15 p.m. local start time Saturday to get ready.

It’s a scenario that thrusts the spotlight on the coaches. When there’s a week to prepare for a game, each staff has fleshed out the major concepts — it’s up to the players to execute. In one day, you pick a few things to key in on and express the message.

According to assistant coach Bacari Alexander, the coaching staff emphasized three things leading up to the game: neutralizing Texas on the glass, controlling penetration off the drive and playing post defense.

The Longhorns had the advantage rebounding Saturday, but Michigan did its job in the other areas. Texas guards had to rely on the jump shot to score, and 285-pound load Cameron Ridley was held to six points on five shots in the post.

“We’re pretty confident in the fact that we have such a deep level of content in terms of how we play, our play list, our changing defensive schemes, that it puts us at a competitive advantage,” Alexander said.

***

Of course, after this one, there was more deflection from Beilein. Seven hundred is a big number, even he admitted it. He’s one of six coaches in the country to reach that number.

“It means you’ve been coaching a long time,” Beilein said. “It means you’ve got a lot of losses, too.”

He said that the Sweet 16 seemed like such a long shot in his early days of coaching that he’d retire when he finally got there. He didn’t retire when he did it with West Virginia, so there was more toiling and more redirecting praise.

“His leadership style, he chooses to operate in obscurity,” Alexander said. “He understands the cumulative effect of what a program represents.”

***

Compare the job Michigan’s coaches did in the one-day prep to the one-day jobs they did in the Tournament last year.

Before the VCU game, all the talk was of the full-court press — The Havoc — that was going to befuddle Michigan’s small guards.

Result? Michigan 78, Rams 53.

A week later, the next time Michigan had a day to get ready, there was discussion how the team had yet to face a defense as athletic as Florida’s.

Result? Michigan 79, Gators 59.

Maybe there couldn’t have been a more fitting way for Beilein to get No. 700 — the type of game that highlights the brains behind the scenes. The type of game in which Beilein could flex his cerebral muscle.

And then after the game, he could flex his pipes.

“I think it’s awfully poetic,” Alexander said. “To get 700 wins in any sport, it’s sweet. Especially when it leads to the Sweet 16.”

Rothschild can be reached at nealroth@umich.edu or on Twitter @nrothschild3.