After a disappointing first two exhibition games -- including a 30-point loss to Belgian league champs Charleroi -- Michigan's August Europe trip hasn't gotten much better. On Wednesday, the Wolverines lost their third exhibition 70-55 to Oostende. John Beilein's team is back in action today against Mons, a team full of former Division I players similar in skill level to Michigan's other three Belgian opponents.
Even if UM pulls out an unlikely win in their final European exhibition, the verdict is clear: This was a bad trip.
But what does it say about the upcoming season? Wolverines fans hope it means nothing. Otherwise, it's going to be a long and depressing 2010-11 basketball season. (As if the Maize and Blue's football troubles weren't already enough to have most Michigan fans contemplating the dark realities of our bleak world.)
Matt Snyder, always-thoughtful FanHouse writer, former colleague and all-around good dude, thinks these exhibitions tell one part of a larger story about Beilein's tenure at the school. Mainly, that it isn't working:
Has John Beilein made progress at Michigan?
He's getting ready to start his fourth season in Ann Arbor and his team is almost ready to return home after getting spanked in Belgium. The best returning player appears to be Zack Novak and -- unless we're drastically underrating the Wolverines -- only the hapless Iowa Hawkeyes provide much hope for keeping Michigan out of the Big Ten basement come the early months of 2011. So it's tough to answer yes, isn't it? [...]
In fact, given the evidence at hand, it's pretty easy to write off the Beilein hire as a failure. Tommy Amaker never made an NCAA tournament, but he also won more games in three of his last four seasons (it went 23, 13, 22, 22) than Beilein won in his one winning season thus far at Michigan (21). [...] Basically, Beilein is not the answer Michigan thought it had last year at this time. The sooner the administration realizes it, the sooner it can begin to rebuild the program. Again.
That's strong stuff, but I'm not entirely sure it's fair. Or, at the very least, timely.
Of course, there is no argument that Beilein has had a disappointing three years at the school. The most disappointing was the most recent. It's hard to believe now, but the 2009-10 Wolverines began the season ranked No. 15 in both the AP and coaches' polls. Thanks to the talented duo of DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, many expected them to challenge for the Big Ten title. Instead, thanks to a disjointed and dissent-filled effort, Michigan limped to a 15-17 record.
That was followed by a bad offseason: Beilein lost both Sims (graduation) and Harris (left early and went undrafted). Prospective point guard Laval Lucas-Perry was dismissed for a violation of team rules. Beilein lost three assistant coaches and a graduate assistant in the process.
So, yes, things have not gone well lately. But if you want to put Beilein on the hot seat, you have to consider both the coach and the context. Michigan, for all its past success, has been rebuilding in the shadow of its monalith football cousin for almost a decade. Things aren't going to get turned around immediately, and three years, despite the ever-shrinking window of success imposed on new college coaches each season, could still be qualified as immediate.
Moreover, Beilein isn't a quick-fix kind of guy. He has his own unique system, and he likes to recruit to it; this makes the recruiting process more difficult than merely targeting the best players in the country and hoping they like Michigan enough to sign on the dotted line. It takes a few years to install those sorts of players and get that system running.
Despite all that, Snyder has a point: Beilein hasn't been good. It's hard to argue he's been better than his predecessor, Amaker, whose tenure at UM was decidedly mediocre. But for now, it's probably too early to put Beilein on the hot seat. If Michigan basketball is in a rush to win, it probably hired the wrong guy. Now that he's there, though, he deserves another year or two to see if he can build something lasting. For now, that's the prudent route.
Instead of calling Beilein's seat "hot," let's settle for "lukewarm." But if the European trip means anything for the 2010-11 Wolverines, that temperature is bound to rise.