In the wake of Michigan's most recent defeat, a popular refrain was "What do you expect? The cupboard was bare when Beilein got here." This of course turned into 15 other variances on a theme. "Tommy Amaker didn't recruit players." "These guys suck, that's why they came to Michigan. "What's Beilein supposed to do with these guys?"
These strike me as a fairly odd positions, especially if you take a step back. Amaker wasn't bringing in OJ Mayo type players every year, but it wasn't like every player he recruited couldn't tie his shoelaces without drooling all over himself. He wasn't filling his roster with cripples and one armed drummers. While Amaker's coaching was horrific, he was a fairly good recruiter. The worst recruit out of high school in the last four classes was Baker. Everyone else, well, look for yourself:
Michigan Recruiting Classes Since 2004 (Rivals Rankings/Scout Rankings and Other Reported Offers)
Ron Coleman - 3/3 Star - No one. Committed as a sophomore in high school.
Jevohn Sheppard - 3/4 Star - Memphis, Pepperdine, Rhode Island
Kendric Price - 3/4 Star - Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Purdue, Rhode Island, Rutgers
Jerret Smith - 3/3 Star - Only us. Shocker. I know
DeShawn Sims - 4/4 - Memphis, Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, Oregon, Connecticut, Florida
Ekpe Udoh - 3/3 Star - Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Wake Forest
Klen Morris - 3/3 Star - Missouri, Xavier, Butler, Valpo, Purdue
Anthony Wright - 3/2 Star - yeah... no one...
Reed Baker - 0/2 Stars - I don't even want to get into his peanut allergy that kept him out of the Air Force academy.
Kelvin Grady - 3/3 - Michigan State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Xavier, Illinois
Manny Harris - 4/4 - Tennessee, UCLA, Wisconsin, Indiana, George Washington
Martell Webb - 2/2 - Football recruit.
With the exceptions of Wright and Baker, the last two classes haven't been bad on a "star" level. In fact, on a recruiting star level, they're pretty comparable to plenty of "national power" recruiting classes. Sure Amaker missed out on the 5 star wonders and a couple of solid four stars, but the guys he got were being heavily recruited by other schools. He brought in kids that could, at least at a high school level, fill the bucket. If you go by the Scout numbers, Michigan should have four 4 star players in their staring lineup. We just wouldn't have a center. For the record, Zach Gibson was a 3 star recruit who transferred.
For comparison's sake here are the recruiting stars for the last four years of a select number of NCAA tournament teams (Scout recruiting stars for the sake of convenience):
Boston College - 2004 (one 4 star, one 3 star, two 2 star); 2005 (three 3 star, one 2 star); 2006 (one 4 star, two 3 star); 2007 (two 4 star, one 3 star, two 2 star)
California - 2004 (one 4 star, three 3 star); 2005 (one three star, one 2 star); 2006 (three 4 star, one 3 star); 2007 (two 3 star)
George Washington - 2004 (one 2 star); 2005 (two 3 star, two 2 star); 2006 (two 3 star, three 2 star); 2007 (three 3 star, two 2 star)
Gonzaga - 2004 (two 4 star, two 3 star, one 1 star); 2005 (one 4 star, two 3 star); 2006 (one 4 star, one two star); 2007 (one 4 star, two three star, one 2 star)
Illinois - 2004 (two 4 star); 2005 (three 3 star); 2006 (one 4 star; one 3 star); 2007 (three 4 star, two 3 star, one 2 star)
Purdue - 2004 (three 2 star, one 3 star); 2005 (one 4 star, three 3 stars, one 1 star); 2006 (one 4 star, two 3 stars, one 2 star); 2007 (four 4 stars, one 3 star, one 2 star)
Southern Illinois - 2004 (one 3 star, one 2 star); 2005 (two 3 stars, one 2 star, one 1 star); 2006 (one 3 star); 2007 (two 3 stars, two 2 stars)
Texas A&M - 2004 (one 3 star, one 2 star); 2005 (two 3 star, one 1 star); 2006 (two 4 star, four 3 star); 2007 (one 5 star, two 3 star, two 2 star)
Villanova - 2004 (one 4 star, one 3 star); 2005(one 4 star, two 3 star, one 2 star); 2006 (one 4 star, two 3 star, one 2 star); 2007 (two 4 star, one 3 star)
When you compare these numbers, Michigan isn't that different from any of the schools listed above. Further, the list of offers for Michigan's players includes Kentucky, Memphis, Nova, MSU, and several other tournament schools. So any misses, such as Kendric Price, were misses by an impressive tournament team as well. I will concede this is not an all inclusive list, but it is illustrative of the point that the cupboard wasn't exactly devoid of talent.
The talent left at Michigan for Beilein to play with was, at least according to the recruiting services and other very good basketball schools, definitely in the ballpark with the above referenced NCAA tournament teams, and Purdue, who keeps beating Michigan.
It's an easy copout to say these kids really weren't as good as the services indicated. If that's the case then Boston College has no business being a NCAA tournament team year in year out. The difference is coaching. That's the reason Amaker got fired and Beilein was brought in.
Good coaches will struggle in new situations. Look at the trouble Billy Gillispie is having at Kentucky. Beilein's struggles implementing his system are nothing new to coaches who don't have the personnel in place to fit their system. In football, look at Kansas and Kentucky as examples of giving a coach enough time to make things work.
Still, it doesn't ease the transition. One of Beilein's selling points was his coaching prowess; the ability to make his players better and to adapt to their strengths. So far, the evidence supporting these assertions has been limited. Michigan is still sleepwalking through the first half. It's still turning the ball over at a near record pace. It's still missing 59% of the shots it takes and 68% of its threes. It's missing lay ups. It's missing screens. It's still throwing bad passes. Instead of adapting his system to his players, Beilein, thus far has been attempting to hammer a square peg into the eye of a needle.
However, the most important aspect of coaching is how your players react to you. Last year Amaker's seniors quit on him before the season even started. This year Beilein's players are competing from tip off to the final horn. They're working hard. They're trying. They're just not getting the results they think they've earned in practice. So long as Michigan's players continue to work hard, the results will come. During the second half of the Purdue game we finally started to see evidence of their effort. A 14-2 run to start the second half. Nearly erasing a 14 point halftime deficit. And turning what was a laugher into a good game. At least for a 15 minute span, it seemed like the square peg was starting to give way to the needle.
You get the impression that the drills, the practices, the hammering are slowly starting to take hold. But it's not going to happen quickly. The results will come. We're just going to have to be patient.