When trying to describe exactly how this season will be remembered, I can’t help but go back to what Michigan coach John Beilein said at his introductory press conference last April.
Many have forgotten his promise of the fun, exciting – and eventually winning – brand of basketball, brought with him from the hills of West Virginia.
Well, in Sunday’s 72-58 defeat to Purdue – the Wolverines’ 21st loss of the season – there was nothing entertaining about the 24 turnovers the team committed, including 15 in the second half when the game was still up in the air.
And it certainly wasn’t exciting to watch the team miss 19 3-pointers and, for the 15th time this season, shoot below 40 percent from the field. It didn’t help that Michigan allowed another opponent to have its way from the outside – this time it was freshman E’Twaun Moore and sophomore Keatan Grant going a combined 6-for-10 from 3-point range.
So now that we’re ankle deep in this program overhaul, has there really been that much improvement? Where was that fun-filled atmosphere at Crisler Arena yesterday? The Athletic Department even offered free tickets to students and still had huge pockets of empty seats in the upper deck.
The bottom line is, the problems the Wolverines had from the start this season are still there, 21 losses later. They still can’t shoot, they still can’t defend and they still have no idea when either area will improve.
And judging whether the Beilein era is a successful one will come down to how he can mold his current cast of players into something more than the 21-loss disaster that just trudged through the program’s worst season in more than two decades.
Yes, the team will add former Arizona recruit Laval Lucas-Perry to the mix next season. And there are also two recruits – Carmel, Ind., native Stuart Douglass and Pittsford, N.Y., native Ben Cronin – coming in. But when you get down to the nitty gritty, the core of the next two seasons is already here with freshman Manny Harris and sophomores DeShawn Sims and Ekpe Udoh.
“We have to develop (players),” Beilein said. “And then obviously we have to make some replacements as well and get more and more people out there.”
Harris, aside from yesterday’s seven-point performance, has been remarkably consistent and will likely make an All-Big Ten team when they’re released today. His future is bright, especially if he adds some muscle to his frame and continues to improve his outside shooting.
But while many will look to Harris as the linchpin for the Wolverines’ future success, the fortunes of this team really rests in Sims’s. When he’s playing well, this team takes on a different dimension. Too many times, though, he has settled for showings well beneath his capabilities.
Udoh has demonstrated he is a force on the defensive end, but his offense leaves much to be desired. He showed some glimpses of what he could become with some dribble drives and even a 3-pointer in yesterday’s game.
But this season, those three were good for nine wins.
There’s no more room for excuses like not hitting open shots and inexperience – both of which have become the theme of the year. As soon as this week’s Big Ten Tournament ends, the honeymoon period for Beilein and his team is officially over.
To his credit, Harris knows the mountain of losses that has piled up this year won’t dictate the future of this group. He spoke of the significance this season can take on if the necessary improvements are made.
“This is an experience year,” Harris said. “It’s not a good year at all, but a lot of good is going to come out of it next year. We just have to look back on it and get better because of it.”
Thirty games into the Beilein era, we’ve seen what this system and this set of players are capable of at their worst. The problem is, 30 games in, I still have no idea what it can do at its best.
– Giannotto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.