Michigan coach John Beilein has been flying high for the past few years, with two Big Ten titles and a trip to the national championship game.
This season, though, Beilein is mired in his first three-game losing streak since 2011 and is showing the first signs of turbulence, guiding a much younger squad than any of the past four years.
In his eighth season at UM, Beilein has built a consistent program, with four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. But after losing three stars to the NBA draft last year. With a 6-4 start this season, he's starting to see some of the deficiencies that his young team — which starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior — has.
"I've never been at a school long enough to have to rebuild twice," Beilein said on WTKA-AM's "Michigan Insider" show on Thursday morning. "We're in the middle of that again."
Following embarrassing losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, and a humbling 27-point defeat at No. 3 Arizona on Saturday, the Wolverines are reeling, but Beilein is pointing to the process of developing his young players and getting them prepared to compete at an elite level.
"We're in a transition — that's a great word for the type of year we're in — and we'll get through it," Beilein said. "Everybody's going to have to have a lot of patience — and I'm going to have a ton of patience — that we'll get better.
"We're also not jumping off a cliff right now because we know exactly what's in front of us."
UM's biggest takeaway from the three-game skid is that there's plenty of work to do before the Big Ten season begins on Dec. 30 against Illinois.
"That has a lot to do with where we are and the makeup of this team, understanding what it takes to win," Beilein said. "The biggest takeaway is now we know where we are; now it's been identified — and what do we do from here?
"Sometimes you need those types of things."
Besides the struggles with big men Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle, Michigan is looking to get more from its more-experienced players, such as Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris LeVert. Irvin was benched briefly at the start of the second half, but Beilein explained that it was more of a lack of concentration than a punitive move.
"People are making too big a thing of the Zak thing. The emphasis in that halftime is we're going to run our stuff and run it well and that didn't happen — get somebody in there who can run our stuff and then get back in there," Beilein said. "Sometimes it's not 'I'm not going to run that stuff.' They go out and forget what just was called because they're not as tuned in sometimes or they were distracted.
"That's what happens. We don't' have anybody defiant on the team; we just have to have focus when things are called."
Defense has been a consistent problem, and Beilein indicated that although the overall defense is improving, transition defense still is a work in progress and likely won't be at an optimal level all season. The offense is struggling with making hard cuts or strong screens.
But one of Beilein's biggest focus areas will be leadership. Without veteran leaders or vocal upperclassmen, UM is struggling to find its way, both on and off the court. That comes with experience, he noted, in getting Irvin and Walton up to speed with LeVert's seasoning.
"Last year, when we played Arizona, Zak Irvin did not score and played five (minutes). He was not ready at that point to do that. Derrick played 10 minutes when we played Arizona," Beilein said. "Derrick's time grew but he had incredible leadership around him. This is a little different situation, so trying to get our guys that we have to get heavy minutes on, what it's like to play a close game.
With that experience should come good decision-making, which has been lacking during the skid as well.
"You have to make great decisions when you're really tired with five minutes to go in the game. We did not," Beilein said. "Look at the Eastern Michigan game defensively and we made some mistakes down the stretch that rookies make, but we made them because we were tired.
"How to be able to play when you're tired — that's what these guys have to grow; it's a veteran thing."