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Posted on Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 8 p.m.

Even with NCAA expectations, Michigan basketball team acts like an underdog

By Michael Rothstein

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.

The Wolverines return their two best players, junior guard Manny Harris and senior forward DeShawn Sims, along with seven of their top eight scorers.

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.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Wed, Oct 14, 2009 : 1:50 p.m.

NO way they'll beat Kansas on the road...what a tough schedule they have!

Rob Oliver

Wed, Oct 14, 2009 : 10:46 a.m.

Michigan Basketball is back! It was a pleasure to watch and cheer for this team last year. If the program can be competitive while being run with integrity, I can't ask for anything more.


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 10:37 p.m.

I LIKE Michigan Basketball. Coach Beilein is class all the way. Last year the team made watching the game fun again. Let the 3pt men reign. This year should be the year the team makes a real splash in the Big Ten and the NCAA! GO BLUE!!!


Tue, Oct 13, 2009 : 9:40 p.m.

Expectations certainly are growing for Michigan basketball. I would be disappointed if I didn't see them in the Sweet 16 and in the top 3 of the Big Ten.