The Expectations Game

Dylan Burkhardt

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.

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  • Erik

    I understand what you are saying but I have to say two things:

    1. These expectations are achievable and we should loosely be holding the team accountable for making these expectations. I think they are pretty fair overall. It’s a good measuring stick at the end of the year to see how they ended up versus the preseason.

    2. All the talk about regression aside, this team can NOT be worse than last year. They are returning two of the best players in the conference and adding a LOT of depth. They only lost two walk-ons but they have the bodies to replace them.

    Given these two points I think it’s completely fair to hold the team accountable for these types of expectations (~#15 finish, NCAA bid, Top 4-5 in the conference, etc) because that is where they should be with their talent and progression. I know I will be very disappointed if they fall short. Maybe last year’s team overachieved a bit…but this year’s team is that much deeper, better, taller, stronger, and smarter.

  • Ken in Vegas

    Yeah, Erik, I would say your expectations are right on the money based on the tangible additions/changes that we can examine. I would expect the intangibles to improve as well, but we obviously can’t measure that until it happens, beyond offseason heresay, which is usually always optimistic anyway. The next step for us as a program was to be expected to peform well, so I hope the fans and especially the team embraces it.

  • Erik

    Yeah I just think it’s a fine line between tempering expectations and accepting mediocrity. I don’t feel like we need to accept mediocrity any longer.

  • The last thing I am trying to promote is accepting mediocrity. And I assure you that expectations internally are as high as ever. It’s just an interesting debate — what should the expectations for this year be?

  • Erik

    I think it’s clear they need to show improvement from last year. I also think it’s clear that they are not yet among the Big Ten elite.

    So, in my opinion the expectations should be a solid NCAA berth (not a bubble team), and a better record than last year (though not just W/L but the quality of wins and losses should be better…).

    And with a higher seed, I think at least 1 tourney win should be required.

  • Ken in Vegas

    It’s hard to determine what expectations SHOULD be, but I can tell you what MY expectations are given what I have learned about this year’s team.

    1. Finish in the top 4 in the Big Ten.
    2. Exact record is not as important to me considering how tough our schedule is, but we should not be a bubble team and the record should make #1 possible.
    3. 2 Wins in the tourney.
    4. Final 4 in the B10 tourney.
    5. 1 win against MState and 1 win against OSU.
    6. Manny and Deshawn as first team all Big Ten. Maybe second team for Deshawn would be ok. Lot of depth there.
    7. Improved road record.
    8. Improved three point shooting percentage. (5% points up)

    These are probably almost identical to the expectations of most fans, so I’m interested to hear any major differing opinions.

  • Tom Too

    I was thinking, again, about the starting line up because the article today also mentions JB addressing it. I think that the one player that screws up everyone when trying to pick the starting line up is Novak. If he wasn’t in the mix, it would be relatively easy to pick the line up. But Zack is too valuable and versatile to put in one spot. He is also too small. He is the wild card on this team and can’t wait to see how JB uses him this upcoming season. He could very possibly be the six man that can spell the two, three, or four position. And, I believe that he would embrace that role because that is the type of person he seems to be.

    Can’t wait to read Dylan’s write up on the two, three, and four spot and see where he puts Novak….tough to do.

  • Dave

    i think just overall field goal percentage needs improvement…….jbs philosophy involves more cutting and slashing to the basket so hopefully peoples cutting/slashing has improved a great deal along with 3 pt shooting…………and better perimeter defense/overall defense

  • Walt

    Expect improvement in overall record over last year. Do NOT expect zero setbacks. When that inevitable upset loss or 3 happens, hopefully in the first half of the season, don’t get discouraged. Beilein will need to experiment, which means taking risks, which could mean some losses. And there is potential overconfidence to deal with (returning after a 10 year absence!)

    If you expect progress to be smooth and linear, you are going to be disappointed. Any setbacks we experience are going to seem greater this year than they did last year, because everyone is expecting much more now. Just remember to judge progress on a big scale, not too much game to game.

  • UMIndy

    I’m not saying that this is what anyone should expect, but I believe we are going to win the B10 this year. Yep, you read that right. It might not be outright. It could be a two or three way tie, but we will be in 1st place.

    If it were possible to search comments from way back you would see that I predicted before last season that we would win the B10 this year and get a #1 seed in the dance (I was UMDC or UMbballDC, something like that back then).

    I know you all are going to tell me I’m stupid, unrealistic, and just a fanboy, etc… but that’s fine. You can explain to me all day long why it is unrealistic for me to think this, but it’s not going to change my mind. And your perfect reasoning is not going to stop it from happening.

    The great thing about non-linear progress, Walt, is that there are TWO ways for linearity to fail. Everyone loves to point to the bad way the curve can go, but it can and will go the happy direction too.

  • Giddings

    If we don’t improve from last year, it’s due to one (or both) of these factors:

    1) The loss of CJ Lee and David Merritt’s leadership – we are all hoping that Manny and Deshawn step in as leaders but it will be hard to match what those two guys gave us. I think this is a bigger factor than most people would assume.

    2) The fact that we can no longer “sneak up” on teams this year – when you’re ranked, you’ve got ESPN putting your highlights on Sportscenter after every game, you’ve got the pundits talking about you in blogs and such, and opposing teams will realize that they have to bring that extra bit of effort to beat you. Last year, we were coming off a 20 loss season, and despite the respect for Beilein and Manny you could tell that some of our wins were simply because we had superior effort than the other team. (UCLA?)

    Having said that, I do expect us to improve, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we struggle early on due to these factors.

  • Ken in Vegas

    UMIndy, I like the confidence, but what are your main reasons for thinking we are the best team in a LOADED conference? I’m not saying you’re stupid or wrong, but you must have some very strong opinions of why we will improve so drastically, and I want to be that confident too.

  • JayRich

    Giddings: I am so glad you brought up Lee and Merritt…that is the only thing of Erik’s argument I disagree with. I don’t think they are great basketball players, but they are an integral part to building a “team”. We need other players to be like that and I think Novak is going to be that person. If everyone played as hard as him….besides giving every other team a lot of black eyes….Michigan would be ranked top 5.

  • JB

    i take this article as an encouraging sign, addressing the inevitable challenges following our successful season. We are still a team that has to work our butts off in order to have a great season. I am reassured by having an experienced, successful coach in charge. I expect the team to be focused and adequately prepared to have a better season than last year, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. looking back at last season, it’s easy to forget about all the tough losses and setbacks throughout the season.

  • Dave

    idk if this team is going to feel those struggles and deal with setbacks that much……theres is to much experience back i really think the additiion of darius is going to make this team very dangerous not to mention if llp or somebody unexpected can really add quality mins ……….this team is going to be very solid….jb will have them ready

  • Paul F.

    I’d like to see less turnover’s, better defense and better time management. I don’t know how many times last couple seasons the shot clock would be at say 5 seconds and they’d still be passing the ball around instead of looking to shoot.
    Even the guy’s around me would be saying “how come no ones shooting?” I understand Beilein likes to run the shot clock down but, be a little more aware of how much time is left on the shot clock and be prepared to shoot. That being said I don’t think they’ll have a problem shooting. The whole roster is filled with shooter’s.:)

  • The Oracle

    You want less turnovers?? What did they average last year, 11 per game? To ask them to cut down on TOs is insane.

  • Ken in Vegas

    Yeah, turnovers was the pleasant surprise of last year.

  • Dave

    just lack of being able to creat when the 3 wasnt falling is the biggest thing that needs to be improved upon by far………especially having more than one person gaining the ability to do this

  • ToBlav

    I have an expectation that relates to having a truely hot night when all the shooters are on at the same time. I think there will be a game where we blow a really good team out of the water by something like 90 to 50 and I’ll carry the glow all the way to the next game.

  • Sam

    I have to agree with UMIndy on this one. For some reason, I just think we have the pieces to win the Big Ten this year. On paper, we might not be as great as some of the other stacked teams, but we all know what the team is capable of. Michigan State is widely projected to win the Big Ten and take the Big Ten title again outright. I don’t know if I’m the only one that thinks this, but I just can’t see State being that great this year. Think about it, these analysts are projecting State to be a better team than they were last year, after losing two integral pieces and two more fill-ins. Much like the impact of Lee and Merritt will be undervalued, I think this may be even more-so the case in Travis Walton’s departure. He is the one reason we didn’t beat State the past two years, as he kept Manny almost silent and frustrated with his defense. Purdue will once again be good, but look what we did to them at home last year and what we were doing to them in West Lafayette before the infamous Burr-Kramer love affair was revealed. OSU will be solid once again as well, but we will finally have some size to match up with them. Minnesota will be very good, but who’s to say we won’t sweep them again? Maybe I’m way off on this one, but I have a feeling, that this season is gonna be a good, good season.

  • gpsimms

    I have repeated this several times on this blog, but my concern is the high, high, quality of our opponents this year.

    We could take a very big step forward this year, yet Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois could take equal steps forward. I think OSU might take a bigger step forward (I don’t think they miss Mullins at all, and add Lighty, and bring back IMO the best player in the league). I think MSU improves as well (though less than us, probably, but that still makes them better than us).

    Wisconsin and Penn State take slight steps back, as does Iowa but Indiana will be better. Northwestern loses Moore but keeps out favorite street baller, so I say they’re in neutral.

    So finally, looking at each conference opponent, I come up with

    IU last: 1-0, this year 1-1
    I’m sorry, we squeeked away with the W last year, and I am unwilling to guarensheed a win in bloomington.
    OSU last: 0-2, this year 0-2
    Bad matchup for is, athletic strong team. They were too tough last year and like I said look to be better this year.
    PSU last: 1-1, this year 2-0
    Losing Cornley and Pringle will be too much for Battle to overcome.
    NW last: 1-1, this year 2-0
    Northwestern like I said will not improve much, and we should, so I give us 2-0.
    Wis last: 0-2, this year 1-1
    Wisconsin maybe takes a step back, we win the home game.
    Minn last: 2-0, this year 1-1
    It took a miracle comeback and the most ill-timed TO ever to win this game on the road. Minnesota loses nothing, I don’t see us sweeping.
    MSU last: 0-1, this year 0-2
    It pains me to say it, but we’re not in their league yet. Yet.
    Iowa last: 1-1, this year 2-0
    Iowa will be hurting.
    Ill last: 1-1, this year 1-0 (the game is home)
    I see our program as pretty even with Illinois. Good teams last year, both lost nothing. We won at home last year so I give us the edge.
    Pur last: 1-1, this year 0-1 (the game is on the road)
    Same as above basically. They beat us on the road, probably will again.

    That puts us at 10-8, which I think is pretty reasonable considering how awesome the big ten will be. I’m just worried some fans will be unsatisfied with “apparent” lack of record improvement even though the team is much better than last year. Hopefully, that shows up in the non conference/NCAA tournament.

  • David

    Gpsimms, I think that’s about right. The league is just so deep that I don’t see us being able to improve by 3-4 wins and being in title contention.

    But at 10-8 we’d still be a better team, and, depending on how we play in the OOC, it should get us off the bubble.

  • Ganderson

    Nice post gpsimms but I disagree with your assessments of OSU and MSU. First off, regardless of opponent, this team should be expected to take care of business at home no matter who the opponent is, and I think that they will. This includes against teams like OSU and MSU.

    Last year, OSU won by only 7 points in Ann Arbor and pulled away in the last 5 minutes by continuously throwing the ball inside over our smaller forwards. While OSU may not “miss” BJ Mullins when they look back on their upcoming season as a whole, they will definitely miss him when they play Michigan. He dominated us last year (15 pts, 6 rbs) due to his height and brute strength. This year, we add some taller pieces while they basically return only Lauderdale and Madsen. Bigger teams will not be able to have their way with us as much this year as they did last year. Furthermore, OSU does not have a true PG whatsoever, and will rely on Buford, Lighty, and Turner to score all of their points.

    MSU won an ugly one by 12 points on our court last year, but the game was much closer than that score indicates. Yes, State returns the 2 players that dominated us in that game (Lucas and Roe), but they lose Suton, Gray, Ibok, and Walton. That is A LOT of height, which no doubt created many easy buckets for MSU over our frontcourt. I will also note that MSU’s record last year when playing without Suton was a lot worse than their record when playing without the “dynamic” Raymar Morgan. MSU replaces those 3 bigs with Green (6’6) and 2 true freshmen. Do not discount the loss of Travis Walton, who has completely befuddled Manny Harris the last 2 years. I do not see anyone on State’s roster that has the defensive prowess to do the same to Manny this year, especially at home. Lastly, Deshawn Sims took it to MSU’s vastly larger frontcourt (18 pts) without the help of another big body nor another double-digit scorer on his own team.

    Home court is the ultimate advantage in college basketball, especially in the Big 10.

  • ScottGoBlue

    A top-5 finish in the B10
    A record similar to last year
    An NCAA birth
    A first-round win
    Flirting with the top 25

    I HOPE:
    3rd place in B10
    An NCAA birth
    Sweet 16
    Top 20 ranking (which is really just ego-validation compared to the rest)

  • Sam

    so you are saying you don’t want us to win the NCAA National Championship then ScottGoBlue? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.