Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Beilein effect: Michigan off and shooting


They've played just two games, yet the changes are very evident.

A change in body language. A change in attitude. And, most importantly, a change in their style of play.

The Michigan men's basketball team is — drum roll — fun to watch.

Unlike the past six seasons under Tommy Amaker, when the Wolverines' offense was often stagnant, the 2007-08 Wolverines are never stuck in the mud. They're always moving, always creating open shots for each other.

I'm not joking when I say Michigan made nine 3-pointers in its 72-57 win over Brown — in the first half.

Since the Wolverines lack depth up front and and are far from a big team, they pressure teams defensively with a halfcourt trap that did a good job of preventing Brown from settling into its offense. The defense keeps everyone on their toes, always moving and communicating.

That's what you want in a zone defense.

More important than whether you or I enjoy watching this team, it's transparent that the players have bought into coach John Beilein's system and enjoy playing within it.

Freshmen backcourt starters Manny Harris and Kelvin Grady thrive in it, creating open 3-pointers for each other and for transformed forward DeShawn Sims, who didn't make a 3 last season but knocked down 3-of-5 Sunday en route to 17 points. (And he wasn't banking them in, either. His shooting stroke is as sweet as a shooting guard's.)

Not to be forgotten is redshirt sophomore Anthony Wright, who came off the bench to make three triples and score 10 points. And with senior Ron Coleman also swishing a 3 Sunday, that's five Wolverines who made at least one 3-pointer.

That's what commentators call "a diversity of weapons."

Michigan was far from perfect against the undersized Bears, don't get me wrong. Far too often in the first half the Wolverines picked up their dribble and were trapped in the frontcourt. And then there were the two fastbreaks when Harris and redshirt sophomore K'Len Morris threw away easy passes. And the time Harris got caught in the air on the break and threw the ball ... to a Bear.

But those are minuscule miscues for players with no college experience prior to last Friday. There's not too much Beilein and his staff can complain about after two games, two wins.

What they can smile about is the versatility of Harris, who led Michigan with 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Harris is the type of slashing guard that the Wolverines dearly missed last season. He has the quickness to get to the basket, but he also can knock down the 3, as he showed by making 3-of-4 from long range.

Harris has already established himself as Michigan's best and most important player. When he's on top of his game, Michigan won't be blown out of games.

Grady might be the point guard this program's been searching for. He's unselfish, quick and he takes good care of the ball. On Sunday, he committed a modest two turnovers. Also, Grady is far from an offensive liability. He proved that he can't be left open by making two first-half 3-pointers against the Bears.

Returning point guard Jerret Smith's absence from the first two games — due to a one-game suspension and an ankle injury — has been a blessing in disguise for Michigan because it has given not only Grady, but redshirt senior C.J. Lee the opportunity to show Beilein how they can run the team.

Lee did so efficiently Sunday, dishing out three assists and not turning the ball over in 18 minutes.

During Amaker's six years in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines took themselves out of games — particularly road games — with loads of turnovers. Michigan is playing much more mistake-free under Beilein, giving up the ball 22 times total so far despite being sans experience in the backcourt.

Now the real tests begin. People will say, "We'll really find out about this Michigan team in the next two games" — at Georgetown, vs. Butler in Alaska — and they're right. We'll find out how the Wolverines handle a dominant big man against the Hoyas' All-America candidate, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. We'll see how they guard an experienced backcourt full of deadly shooters against Butler.

But these first two games weren't just wins over inferior opponents — as was often the case during the beginnings of seasons while Amaaker was in charge.

The initial pair of wins of the John Beilein Era showed that these Wolverines love playing for their coach. That they love shooting 3-pointers (which they happen to be pretty good at). And that they're only going to get better.

And that's all Beilein can ask for.

That his team improves from game to game, continuing to distance itself from the not-so-pretty images of the program's last decade.


zekejennings said...

Nice start for Beilein and crew. Manny Harris is going to be an outstanding player. Beilein might not be considered a great recruited, but he's the best basketball coach Michigan's had in a long, long time.

Jake Lloyd said...

Agreed. Best game coach in my lifetime.

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