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In the fall of 1975, the Michigan basketball team was just starting a season that would see them finish second in the Big Ten and lose in the final round of the NCAA Tournament to Indiana. It was also the year John Beilein started coaching.

A lot has changed since 1975. Including the game of basketball. 

“I coached ten years without a shot clock and without the 3-point line, if you can believe it,” Beilein told the Daily. “That’s really changed so many things — offense has changed, defense has changed. Everything has changed so much.” 

The addition of the 3-point line has been an “equalizer,” Beilein says, because it makes it easier to close bigger deficits, and because it allows the talent of the individual athletes to have a larger impact on the game. 

Similarly, the implementation of a shot clock pushed teams to adapt their style of play.

“When it was 45 (seconds), our teams could be really patient,” Beilein said. “When it went to 35, there wasn’t a big change in those ten seconds. But when we went to 30, you saw a big change. 

“That extra five seconds made our defense better, but our offense, we had to change, or we wouldn’t have survived.”

That change has also been driven to a large extent by the technological advances of recent years. Beilein recalled spending hours driving cross-country, sharing a hotel room with other coaches to go to coaching clinics just to be able to watch film. Now, all of that is accessible from just a few clicks away.

Analytics have also played a major role, as statisticians have continually found new and increasingly nuanced ways to use statistical models to better understand the sport. Learning new things about the game is easier than ever — and teams and coaches are taking full advantage of that. 

“Now, you can just click on your screen and see so many different ways of playing,” Beilein said. “We’ve got so much better sharing — there’s a renaissance of people sharing ideas about basketball that generally, the game’s becoming more efficient, both offensively and defensively.”

Some older strategies that got buried in film rooms have come back, Beilein says. Once teams forget how to play against them, some of these looks are able to flummox teams as much as they did half a century earlier. 

“When I was at Richmond, we made the decision to go to the Atlantic 10 from the CAA, so it was a big jump in leagues, and we did not have the personnel, we felt, to go match up right away,” Beilein said. “So we began to play this 1-3-1 zone that nobody played anymore because of the 3-point line. Everybody thought the 3-point line would kill the 1-3-1 zone. People didn’t know how to play against it anymore, so it really worked.”

This is the exception, though, not the rule, Beilein says. The addition of the 3-point line and the shot clock have changed the game so much that most of those strategies will stay in the history books, and the increased use of film and analytics has ushered in new techniques to replace them.

That’s not a bad thing, Beilein says. 

“It’s made the game better,” he said. “We’re all learning from each other.”

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