The past few weeks have been a bit rough for the Michigan Wolverines. Wolverine fans had their hopes up awaiting the final decisions of five star recruits Jaylen Brown and Tyus Battle, only to see both young men spurn the Wolverines for the Cal Bears and the Syracuse Orangemen, respectively. Since John Beilein took over the program in 2007, he has only landed two five star recruits (according to ESPN), Glen Robinson III and Zak Irvin, and neither of those players projected to be as good as Brown or Battle. Of course, that hasn't slowed the program down, with two Big Ten titles, five tournament appearances, two Elite Eights, and one Final Four.
Beilein can take unheralded recruits and turn them into stars (see Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke), but fans can only wonder what he could do with a more steady stream of highly regarded recruits. The coaching staff in Ann Arbor doesn't seem to care where their recruits are ranked, and are renown for their arduous scouting process that admirably doesn't begin until after a player's sophomore season. That's why seeing the Wolverines listed among the top two schools for five stars Jaylen Brown and Tyus Battle was a bit of a surprise. It has to be especially perplexing for Wolverine fans, then, that U of M lost Brown to Cal and Battle to a sanctions-riddled, soon-to-be-coachless Syracuse. They beat out star-factories Duke, Kentucky, and UNC, but couldn't seal the deal with either recruit.
The tides have turned in the way coaches at major programs construct their rosters, of course; even Mike Krzyzewski, no matter how much he may try to deny it, has stacked his roster with one and dones to great success over the past few years. Michigan's recent run of success has been an outlier, so as a result Beilein and his staff have garnered praise for their player development system and their eye for talent that will fit in their system. A handful of players every year are good enough to fit in any system though (or good enough to construct an entire system around), and the fact that Michigan was simultaneously targeting Brown, class of 2015; and Battle, class of 2016, suggests that Beilein was trying to set the Wolverines up to have a five star centerpiece in consecutive seasons. It's tempting to say that it was an over-correction to a disappointing 2014 season, but Beilein's history doesn't suggest he'd overhaul his recruiting system after a down year that was preceded by an Elite Eight and a Final Four.
It seems more like Beilein is still willing to overhaul his on-court system in the face of struggles. He all but abandoned the system he ran at West Virginia in favor of a high pick-and-roll, Princeton-esque hybrid offense before the 2011 season (while also clearing out a large chunk of his coaching staff). That worked wonders and Michigan has been one of the best offensive teams in the Big Ten since, excluding last season. Michigan found its stride over the last few years with a collection of overlooked recruits that usually spend their freshman year learning the system and become real threats during their sophomore year. This has been an incredibly successful system for the Wolverines, even if it does require a little patience.
Clearly any team that either Brown or Battle joins will immediately become better, for a season. I just don't know if striking out with them is actually a bad thing for Michigan. The Wolverines found themselves in the mix for both, so pursuing them as hard as the coaching staff could makes sense, but given the program's recent run of success, staying the course might be the best course of action. If the Wolverines are healthy next year, they project to be in the running for another Big Ten Championship.
If they had landed Brown, they would be one of the favorites, but that's beside the point. Duke, Kentucky, and UNC can sustain extreme roster turnover because they will always be in the mix for top twenty recruits, and even though Michigan has had some recent and past success, they need a few more years of high level ball to be able to bank on attracting top recruits year after year. Beilein has found a system--on and off the court--that signals long term stability and success. It's a question of if carving out a niche in the recruiting world that leads to multiple shots at the Final Four is preferable to loading up on one-and-dones and trying to snag a championship. The latter is way more volatile for any school that isn't part of the college basketball Mount Rushmore. All things considered, it doesn't seem like there's too much reason for concern in Ann Arbor.