2007-2008 Season

Guest Blogging: The 2007-2008 Season

Thomas McCanna is going to be helping out around the site in various ways and he agreed to write a review of the season. I figured that you have heard what I have to say on the season every game so it would be good to get an outside perspective. After this I am going to work on putting together a report card/review of each players season and what they need to work on. But here’s Thomas’ recap:

Going into the 2007-2008 season, there was a sense of rebirth in the Michigan Basketball program.  Tommy Amaker had done an admirable job of putting some respectability back into the Michigan Basketball program after the Ed Martin scandal and the failure of his predecessor Brian Ellerbe.  Unfortunately, restoring a clean image was the best Amaker could do in his 6 year run at Michigan.  Amaker seemed to always be on the fringe of getting the program back to national relevance, but whether it was injuries, poor performance on the floor at the worst possible times, or some tough luck in recruiting, Amaker just could not get the program over the hump.

John Beilein was hired in April of 2007 and he came to the Michigan program with a reputation as a rebuilder of ailing programs.  His track record at Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia suggested that given time, Beilein could get Michigan back to national relevance.  In his early days after his hire, Beilein made it clear that he was no miracle worker and getting Michigan back to the NCAA’s would be a process.  Beilein also said in no uncertain terms that he came to Michigan because he thought he could recruit the kind of talent that could bring UM back to an elite level.

The situation Beilein inherited at UM in terms of talent, facilities and fan support was far from ideal. In terms of roster composition, there were certainly some talented pieces, but it was not a match made in heaven.  The upshot for Beilein was he came into a situation where he would be coaching the highest ranked recruits of his career. The bad news was, the talent on the roster was extremely inexperienced and the rest of the roster was comprised of mismatched pieces that didn’t blend well together, regardless of the style of play Beilein choose to implement.

Beilein’s most experienced player was Ron Coleman who averaged a little less than 6ppg the 2006-07 season.  His second most experienced player was Jerrett Smith who had similar numbers to Coleman.  Epke Udoh played solid minutes for most of the 2006-07 season and Deshawn Sims after dealing with a personal tragedy early in the his freshman year, started to show why he was such a coveted recruit putting up decent numbers for UM the last few games of last year.  Beyond that, Beilein was putting a lot on the shoulders of incoming freshman Manny Harris, Kelvin Grady and an assortment of other guys who had yet to contribute at UM either because they were transfers sitting out or coming off a redshirt year.

Needless to say, Beilein had some challenges ahead of him.  He not only had to deal with inexperienced talent, he had no returner who could be considered a true floor leader.  The returners in the UM program had some abilities, but it certainly didn’t mesh very well with what Coach Beilein wanted to do in terms of offensive and defensive scheme.

Beilein had a tough choice going into the season.  He could implement his systemwith a bunch of guys not recruited to play that style, or he could try and figure out a different style, one that would mesh better with the skills the team he inherited possessed.  Right or wrong, Beilein felt is was prudent to implement his system. 

After game 2, the early returns were positive.  Although UM had mopped up on a couple of cream puffs, it looked as if the players took really well to the new style and they seemed very comfortable and confident in what they were doing.  Beilein cautioned that there was still a lot more room for growth and that was clearly evident when they headed to Georgetown in their 3rd game of the year.  Georgetown really took it Michigan and in many ways, this was the start of what would be a very long 3 months.

After the Georgetown game, UM would really struggle.  The trip to Alaska while a great experience for the kids, was extremely tough and probably did very little to help the confidence of the team.  Losses to Butler and Western Kentucky were tough to take, especially considering both teams are classified as mid majors.  Now, anyone who knows anything about college basketball understands losing to both of those teams is nothing to be ashamed about, but for a team looking to build confidence and a fan base looking to get behind the team, it was a tough to take.

The month of December was a month to forget as UM played its share of big boys (Duke, UCLA) and despite hanging in with UCLA for about 33 minutes, UCLA was just too much for UM to handle.  UM did have a few winnable games scheduled during the month of December but unfortunately, a couple of those games didn’t turn out well for Michigan.  The Harvard and Central Michigan losses were especially disappointing.  Those performances did little to enhance the faith UM fans had in the program(and even Beilein to a certain degree) and it was clear the team was really struggling from a number of perspectives.

The non-conference schedule did not go as most fans expected. UM went into Big Ten Conference play with a 4-8 record.  Clearly, there wasn’t a lot of reason to expect much out of UM going into Big Ten play and other than an early road win vs. Northwestern, UM really struggled early in conference play. February proved to be a much better month, UM was able to secure some nice wins including a win on the road vs. Iowa and home wins vs. PSU, OSU and Illinois.  But, just when everything seemed to be on the upswing, UM had a couple of disappointing losses to NW at home and PSU on the road.

The Wolverines finished the season at the Big Ten Tournament with aconvincing (but ugly) win vs. Iowa and then got completely stoned vs. Wisconsin only managing 34 points.  Michigan finished the season 10-22 overall, 5-13 in the Big Ten.

The question then becomes, what does this year tell us about this team going forward.  If you want to look at the positives, once the roster settled the team seemed to begin to form a bit of an identity.  While still deficient in many areas, UM was feisty and was competitive in almost every BT game (especially road games).  While just being competitive is not enough, it is a start.  Add to that, while they did finish February on a little bit of down note, they did manage a 3 game Big Ten Conference winning streak and from February on, they were 5-6.  Again, these numbers aren’t exactly dominating, but it is clear improvements were made.

Looking at it from the other side, UM had some atrocious losses to teams they were clearly more talented than.  Harvard, CMU and Northwestern stick out like sore thumbs and those are performances that will eat at the UM for the foreseeable future.  Also, UM really struggled in the areas of shooting the 3 and defending the 3, which has many concerned going forward.  Finally, those who voice concerns point to a 2008 recruiting class that isn’t well thought of by the recruiting services and given the struggles last year, optimism is something in short supply.

Fans should take solace in the fact that Beilein is known to bounce back after tough first years in a newprogram and considering all the quality talent returns to this roster, there is some reason for hope.  Additionally, even though the gurus aren’t fawning over the ’08 UM recruiting class, Beilein is adding in pieces that will fill specific holes that should go along way in complimenting the talent on the current roster.

There are still questions abound going into next year.  Beilein still has his work cut out for him, but the combination of a “better” schedule and an infusion of players that can help balance this roster, there is reason to believe UM fans can expect marked improvement for the 2008-09 campaign. That certainly doesn’t mean improvement is guaranteed, but Beilein’s track record indicates UM fans have seen to the bottom of the barrel and things will only get better from here.

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