The Wolverine

April 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2019 J ohn Beilein leaned against a wall in the bowels of Chicago's United Center, calmly discuss- ing a Big Ten Tournament title that barely slipped away. Two minutes and three seconds stood between his Wolverines and a record three straight confer- ence tournament titles. His team led its archrival by five points. One more well-executed play might have finished off Michigan State. Amid March's early mad- ness, it never arrived. So here stood Beilein, tak- ing all questions, never lashing out at those he might not have liked. His team faced plenty to still embrace — a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with a far more spotlighted dance card ahead. He and his team desperately want to win. He's been around long enough to understand it doesn't always happen, even when you can feel victory on your finger- tips. That's when Beilein the philoso- pher emerges. "There are a lot of programs that would just like to get to Saturday afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament, on CBS … but we like winning cham- pionships," he said. They've done that. They'd won two straight Big Ten Tournament championships and outlasted a dozen other conference teams on the way to a hoped-for third. They've won two regular-season Big Ten titles under Beilein and been to a pair of NCAA championships games. Final Fours, Elite Eights, Sweet 16s … these aren't stunning achievements anymore. But it wasn't always that way. Everyone knows about Michigan's decade-long NCAA Tournament drought that dragged on before Beilein rolled in from West Virginia. Michigan fans that regularly make the sojourn to the conference tournament remember even more. They ponder the days of packing their bags in Chicago and Indianapo- lis, and trudging out of their hotels after an early loss. They'd cross paths with smiling, excited fans of higher- seeded teams, who were just arriving in town. One former Michigan player used to quip, "I just want one Saturday night in Chicago." That used to be as huge a pipe dream as a World Series title by the Cubs. No more. For 12 straight years, Beilein has guided the Wolverines to an opening- round win in the Big Ten Tournament. They'd won a record 10 straight con- ference tourney games leading into the agonizing near miss for No. 11. They've been to the NCAA Tour- nament eight of the last nine years, missing only when devastated by an injury to future NBA player Caris LeVert. It's a different day, a much better day. Michigan basketball watchers agonize over near championships, not Thursday afternoon drives out of Chicago. "A lot of teams around the country would just like to get to Saturday," Beilein mused. "Here we are on Sun- day, and we're down. It's not going to keep us down. "We're on to the NCAA Tourna- ment, and now we'll see what we do there." What the 28-6 Wolverines do there is anybody's guess. They're subject to lapses, with wasted offensive possessions that cost them this year's Big Ten Tourna- ment title and more. They're also extremely potent at times, building up a 13-point lead on the Spartans, freshman Ignas Brazdeikis gunning in threes, junior point guard Zavier Simpson floating in astounding hooks and the Wolverines dig- ging in on defense. Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers has become an extremely potent sixth man, with 7-1 junior center Jon Teske altering shots and redshirt junior Charles Mat- thews coming back from injury to bolster the defense. A Final Four team, again? It's absolutely not out of the question. That's how much life around Crisler Center and beyond has changed under Beilein. He often talks about the pruning process, about the apple trees back in his home state of New York. The crops are mighty good these days. This one got pruned again in the Big Ten Tournament title game and faced just three days to get ready for the next challenge. The in-house philosopher leaned against the wall, already at work. "This is life right now," he said. "Your journey is going to be incred- ible. You'll have great days, and you'll have bad days. You'll have children that excite you one minute and frus- trate you the next. You'll have job opportunities that are great and job opportunities that don't work out. "That's life, and that's how we do it. We just move on." He's moved Michigan from college basketball oblivion to center stage. He's exchanged half-hearted hype about NIT "opportunities" for the brightest lights of March Madness. That's good to remember, even when it stings. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Beilein Lives With The Bar He Raised Beilein led the Wolverines to 10 straight Big Ten Tournament victories over the past three years, before suffering a tough defeat versus Michigan State in this year's title game. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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