John Beilein butchers what could have been the greatest college basketball game in history

No, I haven’t smacked my head and suddenly begun to follow basketball, or any other sport for that matter. Instead this is a guest post by my brother on what sounds like amazing game:

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One of the best NCAA championship games in history was robbed of a fitting end by John Beilein’s inexplicable coaching decisions. Unfortunately, a game that featured the two greatest college basketball teams in the country, a multitude of Hollywood like pre-game and in-game stories, and some fantastic basketball, was decided by coaching. Louisville’s Rick Patino simply did his job; something Michigan’s John Beilein seemed completely incapable of in Thursday night’s game in Atlanta.

            Patino’s decision to bench star player and the tournament’s leading scorer Russ Smith was controversial but his decision to put him back in the game only a minute into the second half shows he knew what he was doing. Patino benched Smith to get a point across: Smith had been playing selfishly. His decision was yet more evidence of Patino’s well-documented close and quirky relationship with his star player. Patino understood how important Smith had been in the teams run through the tournament and how important he would ultimately be in determining the outcome of the championship game.

Patino’s combination of superb coaching and strong relationships with his players were on display throughout the tournament; no more so than when key swingman Kevin Ware went down with what has been described as one of the most gruesome on court basketball injuries ever in Louisville’s elite eight matchup with Duke. The love Patino showed for his players and vice versa following the incident, and the way he used the horrific event to motivate his team to a final four appearance, were evidence of his coaching brilliance.

            While Patino’s fiery and fantastic coaching continued through the finals; Michigan’s cheif strategist succumbed to new depths of ineptitude with a series of unbelievable decisions that in my mind add up to the most horrifically coached game in college basketball history.            

            There were signs of Beilein’s coaching blunders early in the first half but the coaching worsened as the stakes increased. Late in the first half Beilein was forced to put Spike Albrecht in the game following an early second foul on consensus national player of the year award winner, Trey Burke. Albrecht, listed at 5’11 (more likely closer to 5’7), a Rudy Ruettiger look alike who averaged 1.8 points per game during the year, caught fire and put on a first half performance for the ages with 17 points on 6 of 7 shooting.  

Obviously, Beilein cannot be faulted for leaving Albrecht in a little past the point at which he had cooled down. But Beilein decided to leave him in for almost an entire half after he had cooled down. Albrecht, a player who had averaged 7.8 minutes per game during the year, was forced to play 28 minutes against one of the best backcourts in the country. Even after Albrecht failed to score in the first 10 minutes of the second half and began to turn over the ball, Beilein stuck with him. Even though there were Michigan starters and bench players who had gotten Michigan to that point and who were waiting on the bench for their chance to shine, Beilein stuck with Albrecht. Albrecht played 15 of 20 minutes in the second half and failed to score while turning the ball over twice.

            Beilein’s coaching decisions with respect to Albrecht pale in comparison to the decisions he made concerning player of the tournament candidate Mitch McGary. McGary, a freshman sensation picked up his third foul 6 minutes and 10 seconds into the second half and was swiftly taken out of the game by Beilein. McGary inexplicably re-entered the game about a minute later, only to pick up his fourth foul and exit again. The questionable decision to put McGary back in the game was compounded when, during his subsequent 5-minute absence from the game, four of Louisville’s best players, Smith, Hancock, Dieng and Blackshear remained in the game while in similar foul trouble. To fully appreciate the importance of this absurd decision one has to understand that Michigan only has one scoring big-man; they play four guards and a center (McGary). The only reason Michigan was anywhere close to a national title was the outstanding and improved play of McGary. While McGary was out of the line-up on the bench, and Louisville’s foul troubled stars continued to play, Louisville turned a tie game into a 7-point lead; a lead that ultimately proved insurmountable. 

            Unfortunately, personnel decisions were only the tip of the iceberg. The play-to-play, x’s and o’s decisions made by Beilein will go down in history for their complete lack of rationality. Beilein seemed unaware of the concept of an offence-defense substitution. After keeping McGary out of the game for the majority of crunch time, when he finally substituted his star offensive center into the game, it was after a Michigan made free-throw, just in time to play some defense and potentially pick up that fifth foul.

            As Michigan began to fall behind the coaching decisions only worsened. Beilein seemed unaware that Louisville was not in the bonus with 50 seconds left, down four points. Michigan allowed eleven seconds to run of the clock before fouling Gorgui Dieng, a 65% free-throw shooter. Michigan seemed to think they had made an ingenious coaching decision only to realize Louisville was not in the bonus and rather than Dieng having to make high pressure free-throws, Louisville simply had to take the ball out of bounds before wasting another ten seconds.

            With the game slipping away, anything resembling an organized play from Michigan was completely absent. Trey Burke jogged up the court dribbling the ball incessantly with precious few seconds on the clock making sure to throw in three or four fancy crossovers before heaving up a 28 foot three-pointer (the same shot that had bailed Michigan out of poor play calling at the ended of the elite-eight Kansas game). Unfortunately, this time Michigan was down more then three points and the pixy dust that Trey Burke had used to counter his coach’s complete lack of coaching had run out.

In the end, while its unclear whether the better team won, the better coach definitely did, leaving one to imagine what it would have been like to see these two amazing teams coached by equals.

By: AJ Hirsch Allen – @ajhirschallen – ajhirschallen@gmail.com

John Beilein butchers what could have been the greatest college basketball game in history

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