- Allison Farrand/Daily
By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 23, 2014
So Tom Izzo is talking about injuries — and he has a lot recently — when the lights go out. This is in the press room after the Michigan men’s basketball team has beaten Izzo’s Spartans, who are crippled by injuries. Well, actually, one injury: a self-inflicted broken-hand suffered by their fourth-leading scorer.
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So Izzo is talking about injuries, and the lights go out, and Michigan has just beaten Michigan State, 79-70, with a torrid, two-man effort in the second half, and John Beilein is beaming. It’s a few moments after the game. Beilein emerges out of the tunnel leading from the locker room.
The University’s President-elect, Mark Schlissel, meets him there with a smile and a handshake. Then Beilein walks to his own press conference, past the few fans that remain in the arena, where he doesn’t mention any injury that may be hampering his own team. Such as the likely season-ending injury to his preseason All-American forward, Mitch McGary, for instance.
“It’s a great win because of who we just beat,” Beilein says.
But now Izzo is in the room. After 10 minutes, he says Michigan State got beat by a better team, “but I’ve never been through anything like this. I mean when you add up the number of people that have missed practices...
“I understand there’s gonna be some points — things aren’t gonna go real smooth,” he continues.
And that’s when the place goes dark.
“That’s perfect,” he says.
Yes, Coach, it was.
But, yes, about the game. There was 18:42 remaining, Michigan down two. Jordan Morgan tried to take a charge in the backcourt. His feet were set. The referees called it a block.
Beilein pounded the floor and — read his lips — yelled “No f------ way! No way!” And the referees knew they flubbed it and so did Izzo because on that same Spartan possession, Gavin Schilling was whistled for not doing much of anything, really. Make-up call.
Izzo smiled and clapped and pointed at Beilein as if to say, “You got it back.” He signaled to the referees, and, still laughing, said, “Even!”
Actually, the two have not been even, recently. Since 2010, Beilein’s teams have played Izzo’s better than perhaps anyone in the nation. The win improves Beilein record to 6-2 against Izzo over that period.
In that time, Beilein has established himself as perhaps one of the best coaches in the conference. For years, Izzo has been among the best in the nation.
Each seems to respect the other, and each seems to be a decent person. But the differences are stark.
Izzo is demonstrative and loud on the sideline. Beilein, at least as far as basketball coaches are concerned, is more subdued.
Izzo speaks his mind. It’s refreshing. Ask him a question; he’ll answer it. Beilein is more calculated. Ask him a question, and sometimes he’ll answer it, and sometimes that answer won’t mean anything.
So, when hit by a truly terrible string of injuries this year — notably to Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson — Izzo reacted thusly: He told Sports Illustrated he didn’t want to make excuses, but there had just been so many darn injuries.
After Michigan beat Michigan State in January, he said, “I played guys that hadn’t played in a month.” Two days later, during an eventual overtime win over Iowa, he told a sideline reporter, “I’ve got some weird guys in there right now.”
Beilein has lost guys too. But Mitch McGary has become something of an afterthought. The cavalry isn’t coming.
It’s two different approaches to coaching, or a small part of it, anyway.
That approach has behooved Beilein. He has gone on that 6-2 run against Michigan State using, mostly, very young teams.
Trey Burke replaced Darius Morris who replaced Manny Harris.
For Izzo, the past is cause for complaint, and the groans aren’t unjustified.
For Beilein, the past doesn’t exist. The show goes on.
But, briefly now, let’s return to the past.
Izzo had pointed at Beilein and given a laugh and declared, “Even!” Nik Stauskas said otherwise.
Stauskas didn’t miss for 15 minutes in the second half. For 10 minutes, he and Caris LeVert combined for 23 straight points for Michigan. Stauskas had 15 of them. LeVert was responsible for the pair’s only miss in that span.
Michigan was down five. They finished that span up 10.
McGary watched from the sideline in a suit.
These two teams, these two coaches, will meet again. Quite possibly in the Big Ten Tournament. Maybe even after that.
And the Spartans will remain one of the best teams in the nation.
But now, after this game, Izzo says, “It’s not going to be back to normal. Normality is not going to hit our team.”
But for Michigan, another game against Michigan State has ended in a win. That, for Beilein and Izzo, has been the new normal.
Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zhelfand