Even with NCAA expectations, Michigan basketball team acts like an underdog
John Beilein sent a letter to his players this summer, a reminder that while a winning season and an NCAA tournament berth is nice, there’s more to work on.
This is a new season, he basically told his guys, and that as long as he is Michigan’s basketball coach, complacency will not be tolerated.
“Stability,” Beilein said Tuesday at the Michigan basketball media day. “If you look at the really good programs, they are continually trying to get a better seed in the tournament, trying to jockey into position. To get into the tournament right now is a reasonable goal and to advance after that.
“But I think we want that stability where you look across the board and there’s going to be slippage for all teams in different years as we continue to recruit further and further out, you try to predict the future two to three years ahead of time.”
After a 21-14 season a year ago and a second-round NCAA tournament appearance, Michigan is chasing that stability.
And having that season a year ago, where Michigan became an NCAA player in Beilein’s second year, was the first building block for his long-term objective.
“It lent so much credibility,” Beilein said. “Credence to what we are trying to establish with teamwork and cohesiveness.”
It perhaps has given more respectability to Beilein’s program than maybe he even thought. Michigan is in eight preseason Top 25 polls, including a No. 9 ranking by Lindy’s. In the Big Ten projections, the Wolverines are ranging between third and fifth, behind Michigan State and Purdue, despite a seventh-place finish in the league last year.
This has led to some awkward conversations, especially for Michigan sophomore guard Stu Douglass.
Douglass was chatting with a friend who casually asked Michigan’s ranking for the preseason. He thought his friend was joking.
“It’s like ‘Wait, we actually are,’” Douglass said. “It was kind of funny. But I didn’t even realize it so it’s not that big of a deal.”
That’s the attitude Beilein wants his team to take. He and the players know a missed shot here or there last year and Michigan could have been in the NIT. Beilein said he won't address rankings with his players unless they start to act "like they think they are better then they actually are."
So there isn’t room for any sort of lofty perch-sitting yet despite the higher team accolades and national preseason award watch lists for both Harris and Sims.
And Michigan’s players recognize that.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” Sims said. “So if you know you’re putting in all the effort and all the hard work, you definitely get that out of your play. So the expectations you set go by how hard you work.”
Beilein also embraces that people expect his team to be, at bare minimum, an NCAA tournament contender.
“Hopefully, we get used to that type of image that there are high expectations here,” Beilein said. “Because no one has higher expectations than I do.”