Learning To Win

Dylan Burkhardt

This has clearly been a long season and anytime you have single digit wins there is a lot wrong. Before the season I wrote that Michigan had to stick together until the 2nd half of the Big Ten slate when their conference schedule finally lightens up. The schedule has been rough (ranked third by Sagarin, and 8th in the RPI) but does that excuse Michigan’s questionable losses to teams like Central Michigan, Harvard, and Iowa?

This season is showing how hard it is for a young team (of the “core 5” there are 3 freshman and 2 sophomores) to learn how to win. The trips to Georgetown and Alaska were major blows to the team’s confidence. Then a home game against Boston College, a solid but not great team, and another disappointing loss, led to another loss and losing became more the expectation than the exception. A warn down young team headed to play Harvard in a game that seemed almost laughable to them and they saw first hand what it meant to play with heart, getting beat handily by a subpar team. Michigan is clearly a better team than Harvard who lost to Brown (who Michigan coasted by in week one) by 20 points, but they had not developed that winning edge.

Losses at Duke and at home to UCLA were again expected, and the occasional flash of 5 to 10 minutes of good basketball only provided some kind of hope for the future. But now it seems that the team might finally be developing this winning edge.

A lot of this is apparent in their improvement. Wisconsin destroyed Michigan in Crisler only to have Michigan play them neck and neck for nearly 40 minutes. Iowa beat Michigan convincingly at home and less than a month later Michigan went to their place and beat them in an impressive fashion. Ohio State beat Michigan by 10 in Columbus and Michigan rebounded to have their biggest victory to date on Sunday. Those are very encouraging performances the second time around against teams we have played twice.

Already this team handles adversity better than teams in recent years who would fold at the slightest bit on the road. This is encouraging not only for this year but in the future. Beilein is building this team from the ground up and it seems like the attitude might finally be coming around. Manny Harris is clearly a large part of this mental edge, his leadership ability for a freshman is a blessing for this year.

Coming up are games @Minnesota, vs. Illinois, vs. Northwestern, @Penn State, and vs. Purdue. I am not going to make any predictions about how many of these games Michigan could or should win. But we have played these teams before and hopefully we can continue to improve against teams the second time around. I have to mention that a lot of this is a credit to Beilein’s coaching ability as well. You can see a difference in the energy and mentality of this team that has changed simply in the last month since they hit rock bottom against Minnesota at home. Hopefully they can build on this momentum going forward, but at least they are learning how to win a couple games. At the very least we can say this gauntlet of a schedule has showed these kids what college basketball is all about.

In terms of the future there are a couple recruiting updates out there:

  • Well said. The excitement, etc of Saturday’s game shows that we’re moving in the right direction and setting a good foundation for the rest of the schedule and heading into next season. I expect that we’ll play tough to finish this season out with a certain sense of pride and accomplishment. Any thoughts looking ahead to next season? Where are our biggest weaknesses (other than being young and losing games)?

  • In terms of next year, our biggest weakness is on the wing and the fact that LLP isn’t eligible til December.

    If we don’t land an immediate contributor at the wing (Ebuka? Watts?) then I think Manny has the play the three. This means we are looking at a Grady,Stu?,Manny,Peedi,Ekpe lineup until LLP is eligible. Which is a little scary.

    The schedule will be interesting next year too, I would assume it would be much weaker than this year which would be a good thing. LLP will be an instant contributor when he is eligible to play which will help a lot next year IMO.

    Getting another quality player on the wing is KEY for next year in my opinion.

  • josh

    How do you guys feel on Ebuka? Seems like we have a better shot at him than Watts.

  • NVE

    Loving this dedicated U-M hoop blog…thanks so much to the contributers.

    Seeing how things shake out for this last scholarship in ’08 will be good practice for how Beilein will build out this team. 3 star level shooters who are, perhaps, more developed as basketball players than they are as pure athletes. This is a big departure from the Amaker days, and I’m ecstatic about it. I’d rather land quality 3 star players that can be coached up than swing and miss with the Delvon Roes of the world. Hopefully, we can start landing those caliber players too, but it won’t happen until ’10 or so.

    Sticking with ’08 recruiting, can anyone provide a semi informed opinion on how to rank the guys on the board – Fuller, Novak, Anayorah, Cassity, and Watts seem to be the names to watch.

    Based on what I’ve read and the senior year sats, I’m most excited about Fuller and Anayorah.

  • Just want to agree with NVE that this b-ball blog for U-M is great! Keep it up! (And let’s bring home Ebuka for next year!)

  • RB

    Not only the players, but I also think Coach B is learning how to win with this group. I think he really doing a good job with his distribution of minutes and with his percentage of man vs zone now. He becoming more familiar with his players and they are becoming more comfortable with their roles. It’s really interesting to watch this develope.

    I wonder how Coach B would have done with last year’s squad.

  • The Oracle

    I love this new blog too…just found it a couple days ago. The format is a little hard to follow for individual discussions, but anything is better than nothing.

    It’s great that Ebuka WANTS to set up a visit for March 8th against Purdue. He would be perfect for us. <>

  • Glad everyone likes the blog, I’m always open for suggestions in terms of the format, if you have any ideas shoot me an email at umhoops@gmail.com

    If I was to list out the targets in order of ability it would look like this:
    Quincy (question marks here aren’t with his game)

  • The Oracle

    I would agree with all that, except swap Watts and Ebuka.

  • joe s

    Darrius Morris the 09 point guard would be outstanding in this system. a horton type combo guard

  • AC

    Obviously we’re starting to get excited for ’08. The good news is that we’re only going to lose Ron Coleman who contributes little at this point other than a warm body. Here’s the way I look at next year:
    — Before Dec the guard rotation is what you see today for the most part.
    — After Dec LLP takes all of the playing time that Lee and Merrit have, which is a big upgrade
    — Coleman’s minutes get split between Douglas, Wright, and Cronin.

    So if they can get an Amaker-like non-conference schedule and survive until LLP is eligible they should be better even if they don’t have another recruit. Any wing they sign will only help.

  • NVE


    Thx for the list. For whatever irrational reason, I’ve latched onto Fuller and really hope we land him. He’s putting up ridiculous #s and appears to be a jack of all trades type that we could really use to split time with Wright next year, who is more of a pure shooter/scorer.


    You bring up an interesting point re: the OOC schedule for next year. I’m really curious what the plan is. I wonder what games we are locked into. 3 guesses – UCLA (road), Duke (home), and ACC/Big Ten challenge (road), which might be plenty.

  • Giddings

    We’re also locked into Harvard at home… that will be fun.

  • Giddings, does that mean we have to goto Harvard again as well?

  • Giddings

    No, from what I understand, it was a “2 for 1” agreement… 2 games in Ann Arbor, 1 game in Cambridge.

  • NVE

    Ahh, the ole’ Harvard rivalry. Man, do we owe them.

    That multi sport Utah agreement may kick in for hoops next year too. Besides the home opener in football in ’08, there is a home and home with them in basketball.

  • NVE

    That Utah series actually starts in 09-10. From the original press release:

    Utah, which will receive an $800,000 guarantee to play in the 2008 football game, is in the process of finalizing a men’s basketball series with Michigan. The Runnin’ Utes will play in Ann Arbor in 2009-10 and UM will visit the Huntsman Center in 2010-11.

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