It has been a while since Michigan Basketball’s last loss, seven games to be exact. Winners in 12 of their last 14 games, Michigan is a very dangerous team. The road to the Final Four will not get any easier from this point on. With a maximum of four games left, several of the tournaments top seeds still remain on the chalk-filled right side of the bracket. Awaiting the Wolverines Thursday are the Oregon Ducks.
Think back to early January. Michigan was no where close to playing at the level they are now. They could not get a defensive stop to save their lives. Derrick Walton Jr was one of the worst guard in the Big Ten when shooting inside. Zak Irvin went on a stretch where he scored two points in four halves of basketball. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was settling for contested threes rather than taking the ball inside. Message boards were filled with posts calling for John Beilein’s job.
Now the talk is about how lucky the Wolverines are to have a coach like Beilein. He has developed two outstanding big men and has got a contribution from a former Division III shooter, turning him into an adequate defender and a valuable bench piece.
The anger with the coaching staff was somewhat reasonable early in the season. Beilein had failed to recruit a big man who could play valuable minutes. He had really failed to get anything out of his freshman. Even his seniors, all ESPN 300 recruits, were producing next to nothing.
As his resume sits right now, John Beilein may be the best coach the program has ever seen. He is the winningest coach in Michigan basketball history. He has taken the Wolverines to the big dance seven times including this season. He has won three Big Ten titles, made an NCAA National Championship appearance and is currently playing in his third Sweet Sixteen. A win Thursday would give Beilein his third Elite Eight appearance at Michigan.
Michigan will not keep winning forever. Even if their miraculous run continues an they somehow win the National Championship, Michigan will likely lose a game next year. They will take a bad loss to a middle of the pack Power Five school and the Beilein detractors with reemerge. They will almost undoubtedly be reminded of this run. Turning this team around may be Beilein’s biggest feat at Michigan and beating Oregon would put this postseason run in the same conversation as the 2013 National Championship run and the 1989 National Championship run.
Michigan has an incoming recruiting class with a lot of potential. In coming is Mr. Basketball Michigan award winner Isaiah Livers. He is accompanied by Jordan Poole and Eli Brooks. While a win against Oregon would mean a lot for the resume of head coach John Beilein, it may mean just as much to his recruiting profile.
Michigan still has a spot available on their 2017-2018 roster. The proposition of a graduate transfer has been thrown around by fans, something the Wolverines have not utilized in recent years. Another option would be consensus top five forward Mohammed Bamba, who has shown interest in Michigan.
Bamba, almost surely a one-and-done type player, has visited both Kentucky and Duke. While those may be the obvious choice to get NBA exposure, Bamba reached out Michigan personally with interest in their academic programs. Duke is no slouch academically, but an Elite Eight run could sell Bamba on Michigan athletically, a place where he obviously sees an academic fit.
The fact that Michigan has made it this far should not be taken for granted. Beyond solidifying job security for Beilein or boosting Michigan’s recruiting presence, fans should recall the mantra around this team only a few months ago. A win against Oregon would mean a ton for the program, but just as much for Michigan’s Final Four chances.