Stories indexed with the term ‘University of Michigan basketball’

Column: NCAA’s Harsh Hypocrisy

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

When Mitch McGary played high school basketball in New Hampshire, he was one of the nation’s top recruits. Michigan fans were rightly thrilled when he decided to play for the Wolverines.

In his first NCAA tournament, last spring, McGary played so well folks thought he might jump to the NBA. Instead, he returned for his sophomore year – then injured his back so badly, he needed surgery mid-season. The Wolverines weren’t doing much better at 6-4, with Big Ten conference play still ahead. It looked like Michigan might miss the NCAA tournament.

The Wolverines proved them wrong by winning the Big Ten regular season title – its first since 1986 – with McGary cheering them on from the bench. McGary also beat the odds, recovering so quickly he dressed for Michigan’s final NCAA tournament game, joining his teammates for warm-ups.

The Wolverines’ dreams fell short when they lost to Kentucky in the regional final. After the game, the NCAA conducted its routine, random drug tests on a few players – including Mitch McGary. [Full Story]

Column: Chasing the Brass Hoop

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Nik Stauskas grew up in Mississauga, Ontario – a Toronto suburb better known for its neighborhood hockey games than for a Lithuanian kid spending thousands of hours shooting on his parents’ backyard hoop.

This year, Stauskas was named Big Ten player of the year. It worked.

Glenn Robinson III took a completely different route to the NBA: His father is Glenn Robinson Jr., also known as “The Big Dog,” and was the first pick in the NBA draft twenty years ago. If Stauskas had to work to get attention, Robinson had to work to avoid it.

They became strong candidates to leave college early for the NBA draft, which is their right. This week, both decided to make that jump, and file for the draft this spring. Stauskas is projected to be a high first-round pick, and Robinson not too far behind.

Good for them. They’re both nice guys, hard workers, and serious students. If a violinist at Michigan was recruited by the London Symphony Orchestra, no one would begrudge her for jumping. I might have done it myself.

But I do object to the pundits and fans claiming if the NBA dangles millions of dollars in front of a college player, “he has no choice. He has to go.”

This bit of conventional wisdom is based on one gigantic assumption: that the pursuit of money eclipses all other considerations, combined. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan-MSU Rivalry Recharges

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines faced the Michigan State Spartans in the final of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. After a decade of domination by the Spartans, John Beilein’s Wolverines held the upper hand the past four years. After losing two stars to the NBA and one to back surgery, they surprised just about everyone when they won the regular season Big Ten title this year by three games. Now they had the rare chance to beat the Spartans three times in one season.

Well, they say beating your arch-rival three times is almost impossible, and that proved true. There was no debating this one. The Spartans beat the Wolverines by 14 points. Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo is doing what Tom Izzo does: Getting his team ready at just the right time for a good run in the NCAA tournament.

But Sunday’s game might have given both teams what they needed for the tournament: a spark of confidence for the Spartans, and a wake-up call for the Wolverines. I’ll bet both Izzo and Beilein are smart enough to use the Big Ten final game to motivate their players.

But, whatever happens in the NCAA tournament, both teams have elevated basketball in the state of Michigan – and with it, the rivalry between them. And they’ve done it the right way, too. [Full Story]

Column: Beilein’s Latest Surprise

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Tuesday night, the Michigan men’s basketball team beat Illinois to earn its first outright Big Ten title in almost three decades. What’s more impressive is how they’ve done it.

Michigan’s famous Fab Five left the stage 20 years ago, and were replaced by Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams a few years later. For more than a decade, the Spartans dominated the state.

Izzo’s teams have earned 16 straight NCAA invitations – and they’ll get another one next week – seven Big Ten titles, five Final Fours, and one national title, in 2000, and he’s done it the right way. His players graduate at roughly an 80% clip, higher than the student body at large. Along the way, Izzo took 18 of 21 against the Wolverines, who have had four different head coaches during his tenure.

But what a difference a few years make. Michigan basketball coach John Beilein has beaten the Spartans in six of their last eight meetings, and returned the long dormant Michigan program to its previous heights.

And by previous heights, I mean 1986, which is the last time Michigan won the Big Ten title outright. I was a senior that year – about the same age as the parents of Michigan’s current players. [Full Story]

Column: Looking Back at 2013

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The year in sports, 2013, started out with the Detroit Lions missing the playoffs, and hockey fans missing the entire National Hockey League season.

The NHL hadn’t played a game since the Stanley Cup Finals that spring. The lockout started the way these things usually do: The players thought the owners made too much money, and the owners thought the players made too much money. And, of course, both sides were dead right.

On one side, you had NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, widely considered the worst commissioner in sports today – and maybe ever – who gets booed by the fans whenever he shows up. On the players’ side, you had union chief Donald Fehr, who led the baseball players union to cancel the 1994 World Series.

Well, you can guess what happened: a game of chicken between two stubborn leaders bent on self-destruction.

Fortunately, a government mediator – yes, you heard that correctly – saved the day, and hockey resumed. All of it only goes to prove my theory: hockey is the greatest sport, run by the dumbest people.

Things picked up after that. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan’s Beilein Gets It Right

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It wasn’t that long ago that Michigan’s basketball program was not merely unsuccessful, but the shame of the athletic department, if not the university.

Bo Schembechler, then Michigan’s athletic director, fired basketball coach Bill Frieder after he found out Frieder had flown out to accept the coaching job at Arizona State just a few days before the NCAA tournament was to begin. Schembechler famously barked, “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan!” Assistant Coach Steve Fisher filled in, and the team “shocked the world” by winning Michigan’s first-ever national title in basketball.

But, on the eve of Fisher’s ninth season, he, too, was fired, because some of his players had been paid by a booster. Another assistant coach, Brian Ellerbe, was named the interim coach, which usually is a mistake – and this proved no exception. At Ellerbe’s first Big Ten tournament, in 1998, the Wolverines pulled a rabbit out of a hat to win it, and Ellerbe was named the permanent head coach. But three years later he was also fired, partly because of a bad record, but mainly because some of his players had been paid by the same booster.

The NCAA launched an investigation that lasted years. Tommy Amaker, the next coach, had to deal the investigation, the probation that followed, and subpar facilities. He never made the tournament, but he left Michigan’s program much better than he found it.

Former athletic director Bill Martin started raising the money and making the plans for a new practice facility and a complete renovation of Crisler Arena – which ultimate cost about $100 million when it was finished in 2012 – and hired Michigan’s current coach, John Beilein, to take advantage of it. Beilein came to Michigan with a strong resume, having taken three different schools to the big dance, but not a high profile. [Full Story]

UM: Basketball

As the University of Michigan prepares for the NCAA basketball championship game, New York Times columnist William Rhoden argues that it’s time for UM to reconcile with former Fab Five star Chris Webber: “… Michigan is the parent who took Webber and the Fab Five into the world of big-time college athletics. Indeed, [former UM basketball coach Bill] Frieder said he began recruiting Webber for Michigan when Webber was in seventh grade. The university owes Webber an apology as well.” [Source]

A2: Pure Michigan

Writing for Crain’s Detroit Business, Chris Gautz notes the coincidental timing of Ann Arbor-focused Pure Michigan ads running on cable TV at the same time as the University of Michigan men’s basketball team advances to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four. He quotes Michelle Begnoche, public relations manager for Travel Michigan: “This was planned before Michigan made the Final Four. But it’s a great story for us.” [Source]

UM: Basketball

Jonathan Chait’s column in New York Magazine – ”How Did the Michigan Basketball Team Get Good?” – credits coach John Beilein, freshman Mitch McGary, and the fact that the team “stopped playing Big Ten games.” About McGary, Chait writes: “The six-foot-ten, 255-pound freshman spent most of the season coming off the bench and alternating brilliant plays with cringe-inducing, giant-puppy-furniture-crashing mistakes. McGary figured out how to control his spastic tendencies, perhaps induced by his ADHD, and transformed himself into a superstar.” [Source]

Morning Paper

New York Times sports headline writer doesn’t follow sports: “In the South, All Spartans” [photo]

Crisler Center

Stripe Out for the Penn State basketball game; 13,000 maize-and-blue T-shirts. [photo]