Expectations. In the case of the Michigan basketball programs they are extremely telling. Both head coaches—John Beilein (men) and Kevin Borseth (women)—are in their fourth season in Ann Arbor. The women are expected to be in the mix in a competitive Big Ten and the team’s goal is to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. The men are projected to finish in the conference’s basement and an NIT bid would be a surprise.
How did we get here?
Both hires were lauded back in April 2007. Beilein had made a habit of turning around programs. While covering college basketball the last few years, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Beilein from coaches, fellow writers, and other basketball insiders. Borseth, meanwhile, brought a level of intensity and seriousness that the program had been lacking. He’d done nothing but win, building Michigan Tech and Wisconsin-Green Bay into the dominant teams in their respective conferences. Here’s a closer look at the numbers:
|John Beilein||Kevin Borseth|
|Pre-Michigan*||456-269 (.629)||441-159 (.735)|
*Includes Division I and II schools only. For Beilein this includes Le Moyne, Canisius, Richmond, and West Virginia (his most recent stops before Michigan). For Borseth it includes Michigan Tech and Wisconsin-Green Bay (also his most recent pre-Michigan jobs).
My point is not to try and determine who is a better coach. Keep in mind that five of Beilein’s seasons were in what is often the toughest conference in men’s basketball, the Big East, while he was at West Virginia.
But some of these numbers are telling, including the fact that the men’s program posted consecutive 22-win seasons prior to Beilein’s arrival. Tommy Amaker certainly underachieved and his dismissal was warranted, but it’s not like Beilein was stepping into a mess. Borseth, on the other hand, was inheriting a program that had fallen into irrelevance. In his first season at Michigan, the Wolverines finished above .500 and qualified for a postseason tournament for the first time in six years.
Beilein has admitted that this season is a rebuilding year. Borseth and his players are basically saying it’s the Big Dance or bust.
Some believe Beilein has gotten a bit of a free pass since Rich Rodriguez and the football team are under so much scrutiny. That could be true, but nothing changes the fact that after Beilein took a big step forward in his second season, the Wolverines seriously underachieved last year and things don’t look too promising this season.
Borseth’s bunch bounced back from a disappointing 2007-08 to reach the semifinals of the NIT last year. The key will be how well the Wolverines fare in the rigorous Big Ten. They twice came within one possession of beating Ohio State last year and also dropped a close game to Michigan State—the teams that finished 1-2 in the league last year and are expected to battle for the top spot again this season.
This year, close losses won’t be good enough. The Michigan women have to win some of those games if they want to finish above .500 in conference for the first time since 2001.
Of course, expectations are often proven wrong. It’s unlikely too many thought Borseth could get the Wolverines to the postseason in his first year; just as many thought they’d build off the momentum the following year. The men exceeded expectations in Beilein’s second year and then disappointed the next.
Currently, the women are 2-2 and the men are 3-0. Both teams have several challenging non-conference games in the next month—including this weekend, when the women will play Texas A&M in Cancun and the men take on Syracuse in Atlantic City—before Big Ten play begins. Here’s hoping the women living up to the expectations and the men exceeding them.