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Five Takeaways: #10 Michigan State 89, Michigan 73

John Beilein isn't immune from criticism, but you're insane to call for his head. That and other takeaways from Michigan's 89-73 loss to #10 MSU.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
1. Michigan flunked last week.

Last week was so important for Michigan, and it couldn't have went much worse. Hosting #22 Indiana and #10 Michigan State, the Wolverines had an incredible opportunity. They had an opportunity to prove that the Maryland win wasn't an aberration and they can compete with top-25 teams. They had an opportunity to add at least one quality win to a resume that is lacking them, further cementing their status as an NCAA Tournament team. And they had an opportunity to beat the Hoosiers and/or the Spartans -- two of the three programs to whom U-M fans show the most animosity.

Yet Michigan was mauled at home. Not once. But twice.

Other than a spirited opening stretch against Indiana during which Michigan raced out to an 11-point lead, the Wolverines weren't remotely competitive last week. The Hoosiers responded to Michigan's burst by outscoring U-M, 39-7, for the remainder of the first half, which included a 25-0 run to close the period, and Michigan State built an 18-point lead after the first 12 minutes. By the second half, Indiana led by as many as 27, and Michigan State owned a 30-point lead with just under three minutes left. It's only because of Michigan's reserves in garbage time that the Wolverines didn't have their worst two home losses by margin of defeat in nine years under John Beilein back to back.


Now, confidence in this team is at a season low, Michigan has fallen from a comfortable position in the NCAA Tournament picture to squarely on the bubble, the upcoming slate doesn't get any easier, and some Michigan fans are calling for John Beilein to be fired...

Wait, what?!

2. To those calling for John Beilein to be fired, you're insane.

They are the minority, but, on Saturday, there were many Michigan fans calling for John Beilein to be fired. I have no interest in scouring Twitter for these tweets, so you'll just have to believe me if you find it as incredulous as I do. And, look, I understand Michigan fans are very frustrated after what transpired. It was about as bad of a week as it can get.

But you've lost your mind if you want him to be fired.

After the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan basketball spent a decade in obscurity, not reaching the NCAA Tournament once from 1999 to 2008. It was Beilein that rose the Wolverines from the dead. In 2009, Michigan danced in the tournament. In 2012, Michigan won its first Big Ten championship since 1986. In 2013, Michigan was a Jordan Morgan tip-in away from winning back-to-back Big Ten titles and still had a magical run to the national championship game. In 2014, Michigan won another Big Ten championship in dominant fashion and was beaten in the Elite Eight by a buzzer-beater.

And, now, two years later, you want Beilein gone? Seriously?!

Yes, I understand that Michigan appears to be on its way to underachieving for the second straight season. But, as much as you may not like it as an excuse, injuries have played a monumental role in that. Michigan's best player, Caris LeVert, has participated in only seven of Michigan's 29 Big Ten games the past two seasons. Spike Albrecht had to semi-retire due to hip injuries this season. Derrick Walton was hobbled for much of last season, which was a big reason why the Wolverines had the early-year struggles they had before he and LeVert were out. And even Zak Irvin needed some time to get reacclimated this year after his offseason back injury. Are you blaming all of these injuries on Beilein?

And, to those that say that Beilein just got lucky that he recruited Tim Hardaway, Jr., Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, and Caris LeVert, please stop. You may not be happy with Beilein, but you don't get to take away all of the credit he deserves for finding and evaluating these unheralded recruits and developing them into NBA-level players.

Plus, good luck finding a better coach than Beilein that plays by the rules.

3. But that doesn't mean John Beilein is immune from criticism.

However, despite all of that nonsense, Beilein deserves to be criticized. That was the biggest week of the season thus far for Michigan, and his team wasn't ready to play at all.

And, at a program view, he deserves to be criticized as well. Under Beilein, Michigan had an incredible run from 2012 to 2014 and showcased how guards can flourish in his offensive system. This was the chance for Beilein to use this platform as a trampoline and bounce Michigan's recruiting to the next level. No longer would Beilein need to dig for the three-star gems. He could target the high four-stars, turn on the Burke highlight tape, and tell them, "Come to Michigan." This was the best way to sustain Michigan's success.

But Beilein struck out on the recruiting trail over and over again. In 2014, he missed out on Devin Booker, James Blackmon, Jr., Keita Bates-Diop, Trevon Bluiett, and Kevon Looney. In 2015, he missed out on Derryck Thornton, Jr., Jalen Brunson, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Luke Kennard, and Jaylen Brown. And then, in 2016, there was the whole fiasco with Tyus Battle, which likely led Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston to sign with Michigan State. All of those recruits were ranked in the top 50 in their respective class, and Michigan didn't get any of them. The only top-50 recruit that Michigan signed in those three classes was Kam Chatman, who's posted 2.7 MPG as a sophomore this year.

That is a problem.

Now, the glitz and glamour of Michigan's 2012-14 run has worn off, and it will be tougher for Michigan to recruit the best of the best in coming classes. Once again, it seems that Michigan will need to rely on Beilein's ability to scout the low four-stars and three-stars to find the ones that can lead in the Big Ten. Good news is that Beilein has done it before.

The bad news is that Michigan had the chance to avoid doing so again.

4. Michigan's defense is a complete and utter trainwreck right now.

As for actual takeaways from Michigan's loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines' defense was in shambles. The Spartans scored 1.29 points per possession despite the fact that they turned the ball over 19 times. How? They recorded a 78.0 eFG% -- the highest that Michigan's defense ever has permitted under John Beilein -- making 18-of-28 twos (64.3 pct.) and 14-of-22 threes (63.6 pct.). It wasn't just because MSU was on fire, either. It was because Michigan allowed the Spartans, who are one of the best shooting teams in the country, to have wide-open look after wide-open look. It didn't matter whether the Wolverines tried man or zone. If they went with man defense, they weren't able to muscle through MSU's screens, allowing Bryn Forbes (29 points, 8-10 3FG) to pop open on the perimeter. If they went with zone, Michigan State, which has the nation's best assist rate, shredded it until they found the open Spartan. As a result, Michigan's defense has fallen to 159th in adjusted efficiency -- the worst under Beilein by a serious margin.

5. Fatigue and lack of dribble penetration are hindering the offense.

However, for all of the problems that Michigan has on defense, most of which likely won't be resolved this season, Michigan's offense has been more of a concern recently. Under Beilein, Michigan always has counted on its offense performing well enough to mask the cracks in its defense. But, when the offense sputters, the dam breaks open.

The two things most negatively impacting Michigan's offense is fatigue and the lack of dribble penetration, both of which could be fixed with Caris LeVert's return. In terms of fatigue, Michigan essentially is playing only five Wolverines at spots 1 through 4 with LeVert still injured. This has forced Derrick Walton, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zak Irvin, and Duncan Robinson to receive a big bump in their minutes. This seems to have affected Robinson the most. After knocking down 58.3 percent of his threes before LeVert went out, he's knocked down just 34.8 percent of his threes in the 10 games since then. Some of this can be attributed to facing longer, more athletic defenses in the Big Ten, but he's also missing wide-open shots. Why? His legs look tired from the additional time on the court, especially as he is struggling to fight through screens on the defensive end. LeVert returning would allow Beilein to spread the minutes out more for the 1 through 4 spots. This could help Robinson get his legs back and hit those three-pointers.

LeVert returning also would improve Michigan's spacing and limit the number of possessions when the offense looks stagnant. Why? Because LeVert is the only Wolverine that can penetrate into the paint on a consistent basis. Without him, Zak Irvin appears to be the only that can do so, but he's not nearly as smooth or effective as LeVert. As a result, defenses aren't as worried about Michigan driving into the paint and don't need to collapse as much. Instead, defenders, especially ones that have that added length and athleticism, can stay out on Michigan's shooters, forcing Michigan to beat them off the dribble. But the Wolverines haven't been able to do that, which leads to them standing around the perimeter and jacking up contested threes. LeVert will help with this, though it's unknown when he'll be back -- Beilein did tell WXYZ's Justin Rose that LeVert is "very, very close." But, until that happens, U-M needs to find another way to get inside.

Or else things won't get much better for the Wolverines during this important stretch.