He's getting ready to start his fourth season in Ann Arbor and his team is almost ready to return home after getting spanked in Belgium. The best returning player appears to be Zack Novak and -- unless we're drastically underrating the Wolverines -- only the hapless Iowa Hawkeyes provide much hope for keeping Michigan out of the Big Ten basement come the early months of 2011. So it's tough to answer yes, isn't it?
Had that question been asked last year at this time, however, the answer would have been a resounding yes. The Wolverines were coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998 (though that was vacated, so technically we should say 1995). They had a nice showing for a 10-seed, too, having beaten Clemson in the first round and given Blake Griffin's second-seeded Oklahoma team a tough game in Round 2.
Furthermore, both star players -- DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris -- were returning and the Wolverines entered the season ranked. They looked to have a shot at the Sweet 16 for the first time since Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard wore the maize and blue.
Instead, the Wolverines were plagued by inconsistent play throughout the season and Beilein's unit stumbled to a colossally disappointing 15-17 mark. Michigan may very well have been the most underachieving team in the entire nation, and it has now lost its two most talented players. And this is a case of two players appearing to be almost the entire team. Harris and Sims combined to average 34.9 of Michigan's 64.3 points per game. They averaged 13.6 of Michigan's 30.9 rebounds per game. Novak was third in points (7.4 a game) and rebounds (4.3 a game).
In looking at the construction of the current roster, Michigan is going to be absolutely embarrassed on the interior. The only players on the roster with collegiate experience are guards. The official roster lists five forwards, and that includes two redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen. Evan Smotrycz, one of the true frosh, is a highly regarded power forward recruit, but he'll be heavily burdened, as the others aren't the types of talents to step in immediately and contribute at a high level. Basically, it looks like Michigan is going to have to outshoot teams from the outside and hope the opposing team doesn't try to score on the inside -- hardly a recipe for success in the grind-it-out Big Ten.
And we're getting a glimpse of things to come already, as the 2010-11 Wolverines are on an exhibition trip in Europe and seem to look as bad as we had suspected. They lost 69-63 to a Belgian professional team named Gent. Novak had a nice game and a possible replacement for recently booted point guard Laval Lucas-Perry was found in Tim Hardaway, Jr. The 6-foot-5 freshman scored 13 on 5-of-7 shooting.
Instead of building on the effort, the Wolverines were throttled next time out as Charleroi ran them out of the building, 90-60. The beating was attempted to be justified by some who pointed out the Charleroi team had six former Division 1 players (who, by the way, were an uninspiring Chris Hill, Andre Riddick, Justin Hamilton, Brian Greene, Dwayne Broyles and Brian Mallet). Of course, Michigan is a current Division 1 team which is supposed to be competing in a power conference.
And the coach who was supposed to be turning this program around is entering his fourth season.
Beilein, instead, chose to praise the opposition:
"Those were very veteran and very good college players," he said via an interview released by the school in an email. "When you play in Europe, you play a variety of lower-level good players. These guys, many of them were NBA prospects at one time. They just moved the ball, had a great sense of the floor, spacing on the floor. I was very impressed with their play and how unselfish they were. ... They were just too good."
Look, I don't doubt that those guys can play, but you're talking about a group with a player each from McNeese State, James Madison and Colorado State. That's hardly UK, Duke and UNC. In fact, I wonder how easily any one of those three teams would dispose of Charleroi.
In the third game of the trip, the Wolverines lost to Oostende, 70-55. They do have one more game, but the guess here is it's another loss against a team NCAA tourney-type teams could handle.
Now, this is where we have to put forth a disclaimer: these are exhibition games and the season isn't even close to being started. All very true and worth nothing. But these are really bad results and If nothing else, Beilein should have his team playing close games with teams of this caliber in the fourth year of his term -- even if it's only August and he's trying to integrate a bunch of younger talent. No matter how you slice it, this trip is reinforcing the notion that the Wolverines are in for a very long 2010-11 season.
In fact, given the evidence at hand, it's pretty easy to write off the Beilein hire as a failure. Tommy Amaker never made an NCAA tournament, but he also won more games in three of his last four seasons (it went 23, 13, 22, 22) than Beilein won in his one winning season thus far at Michigan (21).
Yeah, but what about that NCAA berth, you say? Well, Beilein rode a tandem of stars with very little around them ... and they were both recruited by Amaker. So you have a coach who has only had success based on using two players, and he didn't recruit either one of them.
This isn't to say Amaker was the answer. He wasn't. He had six seasons at Michigan, which was ample time to do something in the postseason (and winning the NIT one time and finishing runner-up another isn't good enough for six years). It's just hard to imagine Michigan being in any worse shape had he been kept around these past three seasons.
It's not as if Beilein had some incredible resume upon his arrival in Ann Arbor. He went to the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen in consecutive seasons at West Virginia, but those were also his only two NCAA trips during his five seasons at WVU -- a school Bob Huggins had to the Sweet 16 in his first season and Final Four in his third (and, yes, Huggins used some players leftover from the Beilein era, but also integrated his own recruits and was hardly reliant only on Beilein players).
Basically, Beilein is not the answer Michigan thought it had last year at this time. The sooner the administration realizes it, the sooner it can begin to rebuild the program. Again.
UPDATE: The Wolverines aren't coming home winless, as they beat Mons 80-74 in the final game of the trip. Matt Vogrich had 22 points and seven rebounds and the entire team will be coming home with something to build upon as they gear up for the fall semester.