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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's ugly when the angry mob turns to infighting, but here we are. Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork celebrates as bloggers strafe each other with mixed metaphors.

As I was writing Ode To Beilein, Dave at Maize 'n' Brew was poking holes in his Beilein voodoo doll... holes made of words! Since a heated discussion popped up in the comments of the last post, let's revisit the idea of John Beilein as Michigan's coach. This will take the form of a fisk, but, like, a nice one...

God bless Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit Free Press for putting in print what I've been saying since Beilein's name was first floated, how in the world is this guy considered our top choice?

Woj put it best by saying, "But how high is the upside? Is Martin even seeking a major upside or hoping to get lucky? In U-M's hunt for a home run, is Beilein a ground-rule double?". I said it yesterday, "When the number of NIT appearances equals his NCAA appearances it worries me... Up and down years are not what I have in mind when I look for a new coach. I want a guaranteed winner, every year."

Beilein is not a home run coach. In the Pulous world of basketball coaching, Beilein is a Mark Loretta. He's expensive and other than getting on base a lot, he doesn't do a whole lot. He's a safe bet. The same way Tommy Amaker was.
Okay, first the assertion that Beilein is a "safe bet" just like Tommy Amaker. This is ludicrous. Tommy Amaker had been a head coach for all of four years. Seton Hall failed, failed, had a Sweet 16 run as a ten seed with two OT wins, and then failed miserably despite the return of most of the Sweet 16 team from the year before. Amaker did reel in the nation's top recruiting class before "failed miserably." How on earth does this constitute a safe bet? The the dueling NIT appearances in their (hypothetical) final years before becoming Michigan's coach are vastly different. If last year's WVU Sweet 16 team, which returned their stars from the previous year's run, had collapsed into the NIT and then we had decided to hire Beilein, that would be equivalent.

Amaker had proven very little, especially in comparison to Beilein, who has been a head coach for twenty-nine years and has transformed the basketball programs of every school he has been at for the better. Yes, he has as many NIT appearances as NCAA appearances. He's also spent most of his career at places like Richmond and Canisus. Everywhere he's been he has produced winning teams. Amaker had one (ONE! ONE ONE ONE!) successful year, but had indicated a hell of a recruiting ability. If Beilein is Loretta, Amaker was Dave Kingman.

Second: "Up and down years are not what I have in mind when I look for a new coach. I want a guaranteed winner, every year." This is a noble aspiration but you will have to point out the coach who is willing to come to Michigan who can provide this service. More later.
I have serious reservations about Beilein's ability to recruit. Looking at his teams, they are stacked with 6-10 white guys who shoot three pointers and can't play in the post. He relies on three point shooting and a Princeton offense that does manufacture points but can stifle creativity. Beilein's recruits are system guys. He's never recruited the midwest well and all of his contacts are on the East Coast.
Personally, I've had all the "creativity" I can stomach after six years of Amaker's "go out there and be really darned creative, guys!" I do not care how creative my team is. This is what I care about:
                      Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 113.1 ( 15) 97.8 ( 72)
Adj Efficiency : 118.6 ( 12) 94.6 ( 62)
Beilein's team graduated five of their six major contributors last year. This year they are the twelfth best team in the country in terms of offensive efficiency despite Beilein's renowned inability to recruit. He gets kids no one else wants and turns them into three-point shooting maniacs that are in the top dozen offenses in the country in a rebuilding year. This man is a genius.

So here we come to the recruiting thing:

The standard response to this criticism is "Look where he's recruiting, no one can recruit there!" Stop. Stop right now. That's bull. Like I pointed out two days ago:

"East Lansing is a hole, yet Izzo does fine. Bulter's in the middle of nowhere and in the sweet 16, again. BYU was an 8 seed. Southern Illinois is somewhere near the Thunderdome. Washington State. Nevada. Vanderbilt???"

A good recruiter can sell a herpes vaccine to a nun. I refuse to give him a pass on his recruiting record because he works in Morgantown. The next response is he "does more with less." Yeah, but it's his less. It's not like he intentionally passes on 4 and 5 star recruits.

First: just because Butler and BYU and SIU and WSU and Nevada and Vandy have had success in the tourney this year does not necessarily mean that their coaches have been raking in four stars. Those schools have three between them in the past five years, two for Vandy and one for WSU. They've had no more recruiting success than Beilein over the past few years. And comparing West Virginia to a team that's the preeminent program in one of the most talent-rich states in the country, one that's been to four Final Fours in the past decade... um... no sale.

And is it better to get a four-star power forward who doesn't fit your system or a three-star who does? Beilein's ability to recruit is self-evident when you look at the results on the floor. This is how the Steelers' defense was always so good when they were the only team in the league running the 3-4: they got perfect fits for their system that would not have been available if it was more commonly employed. Beilein plucks square blocks and the gurus rate mostly on roundness.

Wojnowski rightfully points out, "No one should assume he'll magically recruit better once he gets out of West Virginia, or that U-M will recruit itself." He's another east coast outsider who is eerily similar to Amaker in that sense. He doesn't have contacts here. He hasn't made inroads to the AAU and PSL. He needs someone else to do that. It'll take years before he has the comfort level with our key recruiting areas, and frankly by the time he does he'll be on his way out. Haven't we been down this road before?
It's almost immaterial if he doesn't recruit better in the eyes of the gurus. In all likelihood he will because the Michigan name still has cachet and the campus is still 30 miles from Detroit. But if he doesn't the alternative is... Sweet 16 appearances? Nearly reaching the Final Four? West Virginia isn't in the Horizon League, it's in the Big East.

And sure, stipulated that the most important thing Beilein will do in a hypothetical coaching tenure is find two local guys to recruit their asses off, but he can buy that experience.
Based on the coaches currently in the Big Ten: Tom Izzo to Bo Ryan to Thad Matta to Kelvin Sampson to Bruce Weber to Tubby Smith (and you can probably throw Purdue's Paitner in there as well), if Beilein came to Ann Arbor he'd be eighth on the top coaches list in the Big Ten. Is that what Michigan wants?

The final straw, at least to me, is the cost of bringing him here. At a minimum Beilein will coast the school $1.2-$1.3 million a year. Then there's the $2.5 million dollar buyout. Woj is dead on when he says "Would that be the wisest investment for a program that needs to spend on facilities?"
If you believe that Beilein is the guy to revive the program, the surest bet, than the increased revenue from his hire will offset his price.
His record is so-so. His recruiting is subpar. The schedule West Virginia played was worse than Michigan's. He's expensive. He's a high floor, low ceiling coach.
I do not think four rebuilding jobs in 29 years, the most recent culminating in back-to-back Sweet 16s, the first one basket away from the Final Four, followed by a year in which a bunch of unregarded freshmen are in the NIT final at West Virginia is a so so record. And how subpar can his recruiting be with that record? Unconventional, yes. Unsuccessful, no.

And high floor... low ceiling. Let's talk about how high that floor is. Everywhere he has been he has created a remarkably efficient offense and taken teams to the NCAA tournament or the NIT, which is probably and equivalent accomplishment when you're at Richmond or Canisus or any of those schools that can't be called "mid-major" without serious fibbing. At West Virginia he had a couple ramp up seasons and then blew up. This year he has his guys on the cusp of the NCAA tourney as freshmen, set up for another three-year run. And this is at West Virginia. Even if his recruiting does not improve his offense has been shown to work at the highest levels*. The Beilein floor is tourney appearances most years with fairly regular success therein. He's not going to recruit worse at Michigan.

That's the floor. The worst case scenario.

A low ceiling is a more reasonable concern. Beilein's system is his system and he may not recruit better at Michigan either via inability or by choice. (Personally, I believe the lure of a winning Michigan program will be sufficient to draw all sorts of attention just as the Fab Five reaches its retro-cool apex.) And it remains to be seen whether his teams are actually any better if they have NBA talent on their rosters. But his system has already produced top-twenty offenses the last three years; how much better does it need to be? Any potential leap to the elite will come on the defensive end, where improved athletes will help WVU's consistently mediocre offensive numbers.

But we've got one more thing to consider before questioning Beilein's ceiling...

*(clarification to something I wrote in the coaching profiles, when I questioned if his offense could, uh, work at the highest levels. Having not examined his kenpom stats at that point I failed to realize that over the past three years he had erased that question and replaced it with an exclamation. Where the question remains is defense.)
I'll grant you, Beilein is an excellent basketball coach. But Michigan needs more than that. We need a star. And Beilein just isn't it.

Give me a name. Gillespie is getting $2 mil a year from A&M. Tubby is getting $2.2 from Minnesota. Pitt fans grumble about Jamie Dixon's inability to get the highest profile talent to attend. Bruce Pearl -- and who says there are fewer questions about Pearl than there are about Beilein? -- has categorically denied interest in the job and would probably find any potential salary bump matched by Tennessee. To dismiss Beilein you must provide a better alternative, and unless you are entertaining fairy tales about Calipari or Pitino or Mike Montgomery, there does not appear to be one.

The discontent here is based on the assumption that we could hurl a huge chunk of change at some rockstar coach and he would come. But rockstar coaches are already making that huge chunk of change at schools that are currently experiencing more success than Michigan -- that's why they're rockstars. And it's likely that anyone who isn't is only waiting to use Michigan as leverage. That's the reality when you haven't made the tournament for a decade.


Matty Boy said...

re: square blocks / roundness:

yes, yes, and yes. it's the moneyball approach - obp was far undervalued by most scouts, so finding players for whom that was a primary skill was (and is) a winning, economical strategy. same as the steelers and their 3-4 defense. same as a basketball coach employing a system that 3-stars can effectively employ.

that doesn't preclude the system being effective with four-stars.

Anonymous said...

UM is suffering from the same problem as UI; there's no bigger star out there than the one Minnesota just hired. Take Beilein if you can get him; he would be fantastic.

Anonymous said...

ESPN reports on Michigan Coaching Search