Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Two Cents on Beilein

The firing of Tommy Amaker and subsequent hiring of West Virginia coach John Beilein has sparked much discussion among Michigan basketball fans. The response to the hiring of Beilein has been overwhelmingly positive from both the local media and the blogosphere, and I am certainly not going against the general sentiment. Beilein made the NCAA Tournament in 2 of the last 3 years, taking WVU to the Elite Eight in 2005 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. Keep in mind this is with players he had to convince to come to Morgantown, West Virginia, where this passes as acceptable timeout entertainment (thanks to Deadspin for uncovering the video):

Under Amaker, the typical offensive possession involved passing the ball around the perimeter until the shot clock dipped below ten (assuming we didn't turn the ball over before then) and ended with the inevitable Dion Harris three-point prayer or off-balance runner while surrounded by three defenders. Beilein's offense, however, is well respected for its constant motion and backdoor cuts designed to find open looks from outside. Take a look at this video of WVU in their upset this year over then-#2 UCLA (via Mgoblog). Especially take note of the two plays starting around the 45-second mark, in which the Mountaineers displayed passing and cutting not seen at Crisler in a long, long time (Warning: music provided by Lil' Jon. Adjust your computer speakers accordingly).

One of my biggest issues with Michigan under Amaker has been the horrendous amount of turnovers we have committed in the years he has coached. To me, this is an issue of player development as well as poor offensive game planning. As players develop under a coach and become more comfortable in his system, turnovers should go down. I decided to compare the assist to turnover ratios of Amaker's Michigan squads to Beilein's WVU teams. A good assist to turnover ratio marks a team that is good at moving the ball around to the open man while avoiding giving the ball to the other team. I compared the Michigan and WVU teams during the four-year period from the 2002-2003 to the 2005-2006 season for a couple of reasons. 2002-2003 was Amaker's second as the head coach at Michigan, and Beileins first at WVU, so they were both working with players who were either unfamiliar or still getting comfortable in their respective offenses. Also, Michigan started three freshmen, a junior, and a senior in 2002-2003, while West Virginia started three freshmen and two sophomores. The next four years gave each coach a chance to develop young talent and turn them into a polished team. Here are the assist/turnover numbers for those four seasons:
2002-3: A/TO: 1.16 A/TO: .86
2003-4: A/TO: 1.14 A/TO: .88
2004-5: A/TO: 1.44 A/TO: .78
2005-6: A/TO: 2.04 A/TO: .99
Even though Beilein had a more efficient product to begin with, his team showed much more improvement over his first four years than Amaker's did over the same period. It is inexcusable for a team featuring a senior point guard (Daniel Horton) and two upperclassmen wing players (Harris and Lester Abram) to have the problems handling the ball that Michigan did in 2006. Michigan even committed 16% MORE turnovers in 2005-6 than they did in 2002-3 (WVU cut their total by 24%).

Beilein will be able to recruit at Michigan. Despite recent lean years, we are still a school with a storied basketball history and a prime location near the recruiting hotbed of Detroit. The key this offseason was to replace Amaker with a coach who can develop players and manage the team well in-game. Beilein was the best coach Michigan could get short of pulling a Pitino/Calipari-type hire, which was a tremendous longshot to begin with. I look forward to him turning around a program that has the potential to be a perennial tournament team and national championship contender in the near future.

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