Soon after Michigan had learned of its fate at 8:50 p.m. Sunday, John Beilein sent a group text message to his team about the disappointing news: The Wolverines hadn’t been selected to the NIT, and their season was over.
Spike Albrecht was one of the first to reply.
“I wish next year was here tomorrow,” the guard wrote back.
The consensus from Michigan’s players following the Wisconsin loss was an understanding of their poor record but a desire to continue playing, because, if nothing else, they had improved enough that an NIT title seemed within reach — if only they were given the opportunity. Instead, the tournament selected teams like Alabama and Arizona State, both of which finished above .500.
There were no excuses from Beilein — no complaints about the selection process, or injuries, or anything, really, except the admission that 16-16 isn’t good enough at Michigan. At the same time, he remained optimistic that this season’s disappointments created a strong foundation for next year’s Team 100.
“The real fact is, you don’t get into these things, and you don’t go to tournaments when you come close so many times,” Beilein explained. “You have to win more games, and you have to do better than we did, and that’s a fact.
“Still proud of our team and how resilient they were all year long. Great growth in them, as we’ve talked about. But really, spots of what could be a brilliant future for the program, for them individually, and, of course, Michigan basketball overall.”
It would’ve taken something truly special for a squad without Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton to reach the NCAA tournament. But their injuries forced the freshmen into action, and many of them made dramatic in-season improvements.
The result was a group that, without the two key players, lost several winnable games but was beginning to hit its stride by March.
“This team is coming together like a team we hadn’t been most of the year,” Max Bielfeldt said after the Wisconsin defeat. “It was something special.”
But the selection committee didn’t deem the Wolverines worthy of a berth, putting a pause on the progress being made by Zak Irvin and the freshmen. As Albrecht explained on the Inside Michigan Basketball radio show Monday night, Michigan simply “ran out of time.”
“Our kids were excited to have this opportunity,” Beilein said. “They don’t get to have another year. I get to coach for a long time, and they don’t get to have that year back. You feel bad for them.”
Instead, Michigan has next year. It has the entire freshman class returning from a summer with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson. It has depth at guard — Walton, Albrecht and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman — plus a duo of solid forwards in Irvin and Aubrey Dawkins.
There will be additions, too, in D.J. Wilson — who said he has already added 10 pounds of muscle — and sharpshooter Duncan Robinson.
Even Beilein figures to make changes after a frustrating season.
“I continue to try to evolve as a coach,” Beilein said. “What’s important to winning for some teams may be less important or more important than other teams. That’s the big thing.”
Exactly what the coach has at his disposal depends on Caris LeVert’s NBA decision and what Michigan lands on the recruiting trail. Regardless, the program now has a strong core that can win games — and it has all next season to prove it.
While next year won’t be here until November, it’s not difficult to understand Albrecht’s yearning.