Michigan fans, local and national media (According to Mike DeCourcy, Michigan will be better than you think), and neutral observers are starting to pencil Michigan near the top of the Big Ten and punch their ticket to the Big Dance. John Beilein’s not ready for that quite yet.
“They can never assume because they were good last year they will have a similar season,” he said recently. “It just doesn’t carry over without a lot of hard work. That will be the biggest thing.”
Expectations are a double edged sword. On one hand, the buzz surrounding the program is as high as it has been in years. Student ticket sales are through the roof and Midnight Madness has been scheduled. On the other hand, living up to expectations is never easy.
In the rest of Mark Snyder’s article Beilein names the point guard battle the number one question coming into the season. Beilein knows that he can’t really control external expectations but that doesn’t stop him from trying to lower them with some generic coach-speak.
As outsiders, it’s sometimes hard to realize how far this program has come in two years. Beilein does a pretty good job breaking it down:
“I didn’t write it down,” he said. “But coming back from the Alaska trip (two years ago) was an eye-opener for us. We lost to Boston College and Harvard back-to-back after that. If you would have told me you’ll be .500 and go to the NIT in the second year, I would have said, alright. I thought we had a long way to go but some pieces fell into place.”
That dreadful stretch after Thanksgiving that saw Michigan lose to Western Kentucky, Boston College, Harvard, Duke by 28, and Central Michigan at home is something that would be easier to just forget. One year later, adding only two players to the active roster, Michigan knocked off Duke.
The on court improvement from 10-22 to 21-14 speaks for itself. But beyond that the recruiting picture has changed dramatically as well. Recruits that wouldn’t even sniff Michigan are now seriously interested or committing. Snyder writes that the practice facility should be approved in September. Yes, this process is slow but it also appears to finally be moving along.
As great as the turnaround was, there was no margin for error last year. If Michigan loses one more game, we are probably spending the summer complaining about Michigan’s collapse in Iowa City or their inability to win a big road game. Maybe we would be praising their NIT run, but likely we would be comparing last year to the late season collapses of recent history.
I think that most of the expectations that have been placed on this team are pretty reasonable. However, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Michigan proved that they belong last year, but consistency is always key. Regression is always possible, but it doesn’t appear in John Beilein’s track record. There is little to no reason to expect anything else but improvement.
That doesn’t mean I expect anything less than the company line to come out of John Beilein’s mouth — nothing is guaranteed without hard work.