Beilein takes Wolverines back to the basics

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — In the final week of the last two seasons, Michigan coach John Beilein was focusing on competing for the Big Ten championship. The stakes were high and the Wolverines were riding high as one of the contenders.

Things have changed quickly for Beilein, as UM has struggled through injuries and the growing pains of playing five freshmen. Michigan (14-14, 7-9 Big Ten) is on the verge of not even making the NIT Tournament.

But Beilein hasn’t thrown in the towel on the season; rather, he’s using it to instill some core principles in his young team.

“With our freshmen, we have really worked hard to get them to understand the intangibles and what’s important to winning. Sometimes it’s just a couple guys that will watch loose balls and not go to get them or dive on the floor,” Beilein said. “Things like this we are daily trying to get them to understand.

“You try to speed up the process but it’s hard to speed it up with some guys.”

That means working on fundamental drills instead of intricate zone-beating strategies. In tonight’s game at Northwestern, Beilein estimates UM could face a 2-3 zone for almost the entire game. Still, he thinks it’s more valuable to work on the basics.

“(Sunday) in practice, we starting off with simple dribbling drills and passing drills — things that I’ve been working on since elementary — but those are the basic fundamentals of basketball that we all need to get better at,” junior Spike Albrecht said. “It’s different than my two years prior, but we need it. As you can see out there, we’re struggling at times at making simple passes.”

After losing five players from the starting lineup in the 2013 national championship game to the NBA draft, restocking the roster with a similar skill level has been difficult. After last season’s run to the Elite Eight, Beilein knows that success isn’t guaranteed.

“We’re probably doing more skill development than what we would really do with the guys who don’t get in a lot of games. We’re doing a lot of things with starters at the end of practice or before practice,” Beilein said. “We’re doing drills that we usually do to build a program with those who aren’t there yet. With the exception of Spike and Zak (Irvin), everybody else is doing it with starters — pivoting, passing, ball-handling.”

Bittersweet for Bielfeldt

UM’s lone senior, Max Bielfeldt, said that although the end of his Michigan career could be coming up, he’s not feeling the expected emotions about wrapping up his final season.

Beilein said he doesn’t expect Bielfeldt to return, but with another season of eligibility, Bielfeldt could go to another school and play.

“I do have that one more year. It’s a little weird. When I start to feel (like it’s over), I think about I have one more year and I’ve had so many great years here,” Bielfeldt said. “To have this senior season where we’re .500, for me, it’s a little different but I’m an optimistic, positive guy.”