Statistically, John Beilein is one of the worst defensive coaches in the Power 5 over the last decade. That is a fact based on data. In adjusted-defense, his teams have averaged 67th over his time at UM. By year, they finished 129th, 67th, 58th, 37th, 56th, 37th, 89th, 100th, 92nd, 69th, 3rd. That’s not good.
I know that is not exactly what you are hearing at the Final Four this weekend. Those takes come from sports media members who are ill-informed and watch a basketball game without really knowing what they are watching.
The 2017-2018 Michigan team ranks 3rd. That’s good. So how did this happen? It took a leader checking his ego at the door, being humble, and making some changes. Here is a quick look at how I believe it all transpired.
JB loves offense. I’ve been in a room with him talking offense; his eyes light up, his volume rises, he starts madly gesturing with his hands. He LOVES offense. Unlike many D1 coaches, he didn’t take his offensive system from someone else; he created the 2-guard look at LeMoyne. He enjoys the art form that is passing, cutting, spacing, and shooting. He is one of the best at coaching offense and developing offensive skills in players.
Ditching the 1-3-1
This is a move he had to make. The zone which JB had brought with him over numerous stops, couldn’t be his base defense in the B10. If you are going to divide your practice time between the 1-3-1 and man, it limits the ceiling you have in your man to man defense. He realized that, and he made the change. Take note of that last sentence; it’s the reason we are here today.
Assistant Coaches / Giving up control
Beilein gave Billy Donlon unprecedented control over the defense last year when he hired him as an assistant from Wright State. Donlon left after one year, but his schemes remain. Beilein is quoted as saying he gave new assistant coach Luke Yaklich even more control over the defense. As I’ve said on our podcast, I think the offensive/defensive coordinator structure in football is something more basketball coaches should employ. That is a lot of what you have here at Michigan. Yaklich runs the defense and JB the offense.
No matter the scheme and system, Charles Matthews is going to guard you differently than Stu Douglass. Livers is going to check you a bit more than Evan Smotrycz. Zavier Simpson guards at a different level than Darius Morris. You have to have players that want to check. There are more of those on this UM roster than at any point I can remember.
Accountability for defensive errors. Charles Matthews has talked about this during the year. Attention to detail. No matter the personnel or scheme, you need player buy-in. Beilein and the coaching staff have gotten that out of this group.
It’s an interesting path and one not many could’ve predicted. Not a lot of last year’s 69th ranked defense portended something like this. But John Beilein is a humble man. His ego doesn’t get stuck in the doorframe like many other D1 coaches. He knew he had to make changes, and he made them. The result is a top 5 defense in America.