Ten months ago, the Michigan Wolverines looked hopeless. John Beilein's team -- one that had just lost its two best players (DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris) from a massively disappointing 15-17 season -- was spending its August in Belgium, where it was blown out in convincing fashion in exhibitions against so-so Belgian opponents.
The losses, combined with the apparent down year ahead, were enough to cause some to at least pose the questions some Michigan fans were already considering: Was Beilein the right coach to bring Michigan back? After three years, were the Wolverines really better off? Was it maybe, just maybe, time to place the esteemed coach on the hot seat?
Ten months later, the question seems downright ridiculous.
During the 2010-11 season, Beilein transformed an unheralded batch of tweener players -- 6-foot-5 sharspshooter Zack Novak often found himself playing power forward -- into a dangerous team that annihilated Tennessee in the NCAA tournament and was one buzzer-beating floater away from taking Duke to overtime in the next round. Darius Morris, who launched that near-miss in March, capped his breakout sophomore season with a decision to dive fully into the NBA draft waters; he's considered an early second-round pick and has impressed scouts with his size and composure at the point guard spot.
Had Morris decided to stay in school for another season, Michigan would have been the popular pick to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten title in 2011-12. Without him, Michigan is still an intriguing team. Tim Hardaway Jr. had a promising freshman year, as did the team's lone true frontcourt presence, forward Jordan Morgan. Novak is back for his senior season, as is guard Stu Douglass, who should help anchor the point guard position in the wake of Morris' leap.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Beilein's recruiting is yielding more promising results than at any time during his tenure with the Wolverines. He has lined up three solid players in the 2011 class, and his 2012 haul already includes two four-star, top-100 forwards in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson Jr. (And yes, in case you're wondering, Robinson is the son of former NBA star Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson; Michigan currently leads the way in the all-important "sons of 1990s NBA stars also named after their fathers." It is the humble opinion of this writer that Glen Rice Jr. should transfer to Michigan and complete the trifecta. I'm kidding, but only sort of.)
Even if Michigan doesn't contend for a Big Ten title next season -- and what's to say Beilein won't exceed expectations again? -- the overall trajectory here is undeniably positive. Beilein has instilled his system to produce an efficient offensive unit that relies on his trademark brand of long-range shooting and versatile floor-spreaders. His current players are more talented than anyone thought. And the talent arriving on campus in the next few seasons only portends future success.
There has to be a lesson somewhere in here. Forget about Belgium? Ignore exhibitions at all costs? Don't put a coach on the hot seat in late summer? Whatever it is, Beilein has made it stick. Suddenly, with minimal warning, his program is in much better shape than anyone would have assumed merely 10 months ago. As perceptual turnarounds go, this one's up there.