Pain only matters as long as you can feel it. A broken leg isn't so bad once the morphine kicks in. A broken heart feels much better when it's been drenched in cheap booze. Pride?
Well, that always hurts. But at 5-15 it starts to hurt a lot less than it did at the start of the season.
Saturday marked the twelfth time this season Michigan was beaten by double digits. Making it worse was the knowledge that Michigan didn't wasn't within single digits of the Spartans from the 18 minute mark of the second half on. Chants of "Little Sister" rained down from the stands as the Wolverines walked off the court.
Offensively, Michigan State had its way with the young Wolverines, tallying 25 assists on 36 buckets. Defensively the Spartans collapsed on Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, holding them to 17 points, 13 below their combined season average. Everyone else? Not too much better I'm afraid.
This isn't to say Michigan didn't have chances. Michigan took 65 shots while the Spartans took 53. Unfortunately, as usual, the difference was quality rather than quantity. Michigan State shot 58% for the game, including 72% in the second half, while the Wolverines shot a dreadful 35% for the game and 25% from three. Michigan has shot so poorly from three all season, and to be honest so poorly from the floor in general, you've got to wonder if their fingers are getting numb too. When half of your shots are three pointers (31 threes), something's wrong when only 8 of them go in. Something's gotta give.
One of Beilein's calling cards when hired was his ability to coach. I'm simply not seeing it. This team is getting worked over night in night out. If there wasn't effort, I'd place part of the blame on the players. But these kids are working hard. They're trying, and god bless them for that. They're kids. They're making mistakes, but they're trying.
However, their coach isn't putting them in a position to succeed.
People reading this will tell me I'm being too hard on the team and the coach. That it's too early to judge. That Beilein's a proven winner and in time he'll make Michigan a contender. Maybe somewhere down inside, I believe that. Maybe. Maybe Michael Rosenberg has a point, Beilein's playing the hand he was dealt.
But I'm tired of making excuses in the face of cold reality.
I refuse to accept that Michigan should be this bad in anything. I will not accept the promise of a brighter tomorrow for the cost of living in the stone age right now. That is simply not fair to the kids who currently don the Maize and Blue. They are not place holders. They are not fodder for the wood chipper of re-invention. They're tough kids who deserve to have a chance to win a game or two.
No, I don't expect Michigan to win the conference. Hell, I don't expect them to even make the NIT right now. Quite frankly, they're too young and too shallow on the bench. But they should at least be competitive. Michigan should not lose to Harvard (in anything), any more than Navy should beat Notre Dame in anything (Other than sailing. They are the Navy after all.). I've heard all the copouts and they're all crap.
The cupboard was bare. Really? Does Michigan really have less talent than Western Kentucky, Harvard, or Central Michigan? Don't kid yourself, we've addressed that, and the answer is no. While these kids weren't Duke recruits, they were above being recruited by the directional schools we lost to.
It's a new system, they're learning all kinds of new things. That has some merit, but 20 games in more of an excused than a reason. Further, they got in to Michigan. They're not stupid. They're bright, athletically gifted teenagers. Regardless of the system, you can't turn post players into three point shooters anymore than Shaq can play point guard. Beilein's dogged insistence on this point makes little sense when the team is shooting 32% from three on the season and the kid taking the bulk of those shots (Harris) is chucking them up at a 27% clip. What's worse, the team's best three point shooter is also its best interior scorer. DeShawn Sims is hitting 36% of his threes but is the team's ONLY inside threat. If your best interior player is roaming the three point line that makes you a predictable, one dimensional offense. Until Beilein has three point shooters on this team, he should play with what he's got. Which brings us to the next refrain,
Beilein doesn't have his players yet. So what? That means he's not going to coach until they get here? I know I'm coming down hard on Beilein right now and perhaps time will likely prove me wrong, but right now his offensive system isn't working. He desperately needs to find ways to generate points that DOES NOT involve three point shooting. Further, he needs to teach some defense. Opponents are shooting 40% from three and 46% overall. That's embarrassing. Stop me if you've heard this, formerly cold player gets red hot against Michigan. That broken record's been play non-stop all season, with Drew Neitzel and his goofy bald head singing the latest refrain. I can't imagine he needs his players to know Neitzel's the best shooter on that team.
Look at his record. After a tough first years his teams play pretty well. Yeah, but it's never been this bad. Beilein's worst season as a DI coach was his first year at Canisius where he went 10-18 (5-9 in conference). Since then he's failed to win 15 games once, his first year at WVU. So this argument has merit. However, if we're accepting this argument as valid then it makes this year look even worse. I'm not saying Michigan should've beaten Duke, UCLA, or Georgetown. They shouldn't have. But they should have at least 8 wins, upward to ten at this point. They should've the two directional schools they lost to, beaten Harvard, and beaten Iowa at home. Maybe even pulled a minor upset by now, Boston College for instance. The long term prognosis looks fine. But again, what about these players?
He didn't pick the schedule. See above. I'm not asking for the world.
Maybe I'm a little biased on the subject of coaching. I wasn't a huge Beilein fan to begin with and I wasn't exactly jumping up and down when he was hired. But I had faith Michigan would show signs of improvement and be competitive.
Five minute spurts of competence don't work for me. The players have said it too. Jevohn Sheppard said it a couple of days ago, "At this point there aren't any moral victories." Sure I'll wake up in two years and Michigan will be competitive again. Sure Beilein will recruit a couple of hot shooters and things will improve. Sure the future is brighter than the present. But I said that for six years under Amaker and I'm tired of recycling my excuses.
All I want is for this team to be competitive. To have a chance to play to their strengths. To play on their own terms rather than against their opponent and their system.
If I'm wrong, fine. I welcome the opportunity for a retraction. But right now that retraction looks a long way off.