Until this year, I never thought a John Beilein team would reach the Final Four.
I thought he was a terrific coach — watched him from up close coach circles around then-Clemson coach Oliver Purnell in the 2009 NCAA tournament; and last year win a share of the Big Ten title with a couple of starters only coveted by the mid-major world.
But I didn’t think he’d ever land the type of big man it takes to win big. For the most part, those guys didn’t fit his four-around-one offensive system. And so his system didn’t fit the Final Four.
If Trey Burke doesn’t hit a 30-foot 3-pointer against Kansas, maybe I’d be sticking with that notion. I hope not. By the time this tournament began, I liked Michigan’s chances (I picked U-M to reach the title game, against Louisville.). And had come around to altering my perception of the Wolverines’ ceiling under John Beilein.
Michigan will be solid, an NCAA tournament team and upper-tier Big Ten program as long as Beilein is there.
Whether U-M is something more — more consistently like this — I have my doubts. But, as I wrote in today’s Lansing State Journal column, Final Four runs like this leave an impression.
I do not, however, believe Michigan’s rise, to whatever level, should feel like a threat to Michigan State.
The long-term successes of both programs are not mutually exclusive. They are related only perhaps by occasional oncoming recruiting tiffs and, from a perception standpoint, that it probably helps a little when one gets the stage all to itself. Like tonight.
For the most part, Beilein and Tom Izzo appear to be chasing different players, with different recruiting nets. That could change as Michigan gains more comparative legitimacy. But not to the point that one program has to tumble.
The perception of a threat, I believe, is mostly caused by history: These two programs have rarely ever been good together. And never great together. So, subconsciously, it’s difficult to picture.
It works, though, for Kentucky and Louisville, Duke and North Carolina. No reason it can’t in this case. Both are now nationally recognized brands — Michigan more so still for its past; MSU for Izzo and the last 16 years.
The Spartans are probably going to have to deal with the Wolverines from now on, and acknowledge their worthiness under Beilein. They’ll threaten MSU in the Big Ten title chase some years. But they shouldn’t feel like a threat to what Izzo’s built.