CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Don’t say he didn’t warn you.
Since being hired in April, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein has preached his team is young and that learning his system will take time.
He said things would get ugly at times.
But this ugly?
A 62-51 to Harvard in cozy Levites Pavilion Saturday night ugly?
A Harvard, that has beaten just 18 major conference teams in the program’s 96 seasons.
A Harvard, that lost 82-50 to the Wolverines last year and was picked to finish sixth of eight Ivy League teams this season.
And of course, a Harvard now coached by Tommy Amaker, who Michigan fired after last season.
“I don’t think things like this are (unexpected),” Beilein said. “Are they unexpected in the long range of the program? Absolutely. But I don’t think they’re that unexpected right now in college basketball.”
Beilein has maintained from the get-go that supporting his team this year shouldn’t come down to wins and losses. Fans should look forward to the development of younger players and to the exciting, up-and-down style he brought with him from West Virginia would be fun to watch.
But missing 42 shots, including 15 3-pointers, isn’t fun.
Getting outrebound by a team that boasts a starting line without a true center and three guards under 6-foot-2 isn’t fun.
Having an assist-to-turnover ratio of .46 when your system emphasizes ball control isn’t fun.
Allowing a team that doesn’t start a senior to finish with 17 assists against just nine turnovers isn’t fun. Letting six players, none of whom are on scholarship, score at least eight points isn’t fun.
So what does that leave?
A loss that – although no one in the Michigan locker room would admit it – is embarrassing.
Amaker maintained the win was great for Harvard, but it had no personal ramifications for him. Even so, the, “We’ve got Tommy,” chants from the Crimson Crazies before they rushed the court must have given him some satisfaction.
And even though the Wolverines maintained this was just another game, the post-game locker room vibe was particularly tense. Players struggled to explain the loss. Many couldn’t even lift their heads to respond.
Maybe they were just too tired to talk. Beilein made clear he wasn’t trying to make excuses, but he said fatigue may have caught up to the Wolverines, playing their fifth game in 11 days.
Michigan (3-5), trailing 37-26 with 15 minutes left in the game, put together an 11-0 run, sparked by the dribble drives of freshman guard Manny Harris, who led the team with 13 points.
After the Wolverines surged to knot the game at 51 with 3:38 left, Michigan didn’t seem to have any gas left in its tank. An unintimidated Harvard squad closed the game on an 11-0 run of its own, scoring on fastbreak lay-ups.
“(The Wolverines) are just regular dudes,” Crimson forward Evan Harris said. “They lace up their shoes the same way. They tie their shorts. They’re not super people out there dunking.”
As Harvard (4-4) capped off its game-ending run, Beilein sat at the end of the Michigan bench, clenching his hands together, staring at the ground.
Even with his preseason proclamation, the first-year coach could never have imagined such a low as a loss to Harvard.
Now the Wolverines, who have lost three in a row and five of their last six, have to hope it doesn’t get worse.