20 years. That’s how long it’s been since the Michigan basketball program can say they’ve been all the way to a Final Four. John Beilein is still having trouble wrapping his mind around the accomplishment, drawing on his wife, Kathleen, to set him straight.
“After a loss you wake up and you know something happened, bad, but you’re not sure for about two or three seconds,” said Beilein. “And then you realize you lost the game the night before.
“I woke up this morning, I woke up, and I got up and I said, ‘I feel good,’ and I kind of said, ‘are we still going to the final four? Is this true?’ And she said, ‘Yes we are.’ And there was a moment there where I realized it happened.”
In 35 seasons as a head coach, John Beilein has tirelessly been trying to scale this mountain, often reaching heights he never had before like in 2006 when West Virginia advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. But he’s never been this high, and Beilein is enjoying the view even if he doesn’t fully realize what it all means at the moment.
“Games are games to me, and someday I’ll feel different about the bad losses and maybe say, ‘well boy they helped to give you good wins,’ but games like this -- I know one thing, I’m happy I have a better seat than I normally have had for the Final Four because my seats keep getting further away,” he said.
Beilein’s seat will be behind the wheel as Michigan takes the floor Saturday night at the Georgia Dome for their matchup with Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange (8:49pm/EST). But that’s not always the way he prefers it. Michigan’s youth and inexperience -- although 38 games under their belt is a lot -- gives Beilein and his staff an interesting question to ponder: direct more or direct less? Turns out it’s a little of both, especially in the NCAA tournament.
“You got to know the difference between running a play and being a player,” said Beilein. “And we’ve tried to put them in position to be in position. So if you put them in a scheme, more of an action we call it, if there’s action going on, now you pick and choose what you’re going to do.
“You’ve got all of these options and then we try to teach them, ‘Alright, why did you do that?’ It’s the same thing with our fast break. We’ve added some wrinkles to our fast break. I finally put my head together and said, ‘That’s really tough to stop, why don’t we do that more?’”
Trey Burke, Mr. consistency, allows Michigan the flexibility to let players play in Beilein’s offense -- most obvious in the waning seconds of the win over Kansas and then in overtime when it became Burke’s game to win or lose.
But if it works, it works and a good coach knows when to ride the hot hand like Burke had, or like Nik Stauskas had Sunday afternoon against Florida.
“I would prefer to be all flow if we can,” said Beilein. “I still think that we call too many plays but it’s in the same action. You see the same set but we’re showing them a different action. But if we get to the point with a veteran team, they can run it all themselves ... but you still have to assist with three freshmen out there and a sophomore -- we still have to assist with what to run and why to run it.”
The question ‘why’ is something the Wolverines won’t have to ask themselves when they look back on the season that was, whenever it either comes to an end in defeat or the celebration that begins after a win Monday night. The ups and downs and heartbreaking defeats won’t sting as much, instead being seen as building blocks that gave Michigan the backbone they needed to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
At least that’s what they hope.
“One thing that builds up in a season like we had where you have a 20-1 start, losing is out of proportion,” said Beilein. “It’s inevitable but it’s taken out of proportion both personally and by everybody. And it hits you harder -- if we had lost four or five games, a couple of losses wouldn’t have taught us. So it really hit us and all of us had to say, ‘Alright, we can still do this. This is nothing, we can do this.’
“And as Duke was getting beat everyday and all the other teams, Kansas lost three in a row. Well everybody is getting beat, and some one of these teams is going to win it, so -- why can’t it be us?”
To watch video of Beilein, press play below.