At his first press conference of the 2010-2011 basketball season, Michigan head coach John Beilein was asked about the “ancillary advantages” of the his team’s quick summer jaunt to Belgium. “The biggest benefit was that their cell phones didn’t work,” Beilein joked, “so they had to talk to each other.”
It was a joke, but also an expression of hope–hope that team chemistry might overcome more tangible limitations like shooting, rebounding, and experience. Especially experience. Six of Beilein’s ten best players have never played college ball, and two more are inexperienced sophomores. Even promising youngsters like Tim Hardaway Jr., son of NBA great Tim Hardaway, aren’t yet ready to fill the shoes of DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. The upshot is likely to be Beilein’s third losing season in four years at Michigan.
Unlike with the football program, where passion runs hot and expectations are perpetual, Beilein’s job isn’t on the line. After the wholesale NCAA violations of the Steve Fisher era, the dubious choice of Brian Ellerbe, and Tommy Amaker’s inability (in six years) to get to the NCAA tourney, the men’s basketball program was as good as dead when Beilein was hired in 2007. He was asked to reanimate a zombie, and he will be given plenty of time to do it. In the meantime, he can only hope that his kids’ chemistry will be enough to compete with the future pros on other Big Ten teams.