- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we turn our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules and anywhere in between. Today: Can John Beilein change again? Does he need to?
Before last season, John Beilein was not a man accustomed to playing with superior talent.
Beilein built his career like he builds his offenses: methodically, intelligently and, most of all, uniquely. He has never been an assistant coach; his coaching career has included stops in high school (Newfane), community college (Erie CC), NAIA (Nazareth), Division II (LeMoyne) and the mid-major ranks (Canisius, Richmond); and he got to West Virginia and then Michigan because he found a way to consistently exploit inefficiencies in the talent market. Beilein didn't coach national players of the year and the progeny of household-name NBA veterans. He coached Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle.
Last October, though, Beilein was confronted with a startling fact. With Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary, he had as much pure talent as any coach in the country. His trademark two-guard front offense and 1-3-1 zone -- both designed to minimize athletic disadvantages early in his career -- weren't as necessary with Burke running the show. So he adapted. He ran clear-outs for Burke and let him create his own shot. He ran conventional pick-and-roll. He encouraged his teams to run. The Wolverines even practiced lobs.
Now Burke and Hardaway are in the NBA. McGary, named a preseason AP All-American Monday, and Robinson, a multitalented wing hungry for more than a purely athletic role, are set to take a lead role. And so the question is whether Beilein can tweak his formula for maximum offensive output again … or whether he even needs to in the first place.
He isn't convinced by the premise.
"I don’t think there was ever a drastic change," Beilein said. "There was a general migration of subtle changes over time. We’re going to do something 30 percent of the time X number of years ago, then it was 40 and 50 percent of the time.
"And then last year, we have a player of the year, so we’re going to try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. I don’t think there’s a drastic change back [this year] as well, but those things could drop 20 to 30 percent in either direction."
It's true Beilein never made a total overhaul. He still played the two-guard last year. Burke and Hardaway's perimeter playmaking and the lights-out stroke of freshman guard Nik Stauskas suited those two-guard sets just fine; the Wolverines still got plenty of corner 3s out of those pesky baseline drives. (Freshman point guard Spike Albrecht, a classic unheralded and largely unrecruited Beilein find, was born to play "pure" two-guard, if there is such a thing. The kid throws a wicked baseline bounce pass.)
But it's also true that Beilein wasn't running the same stuff he ran at West Virginia nearly as often. On offense, he cleared out for Burke far more than ever before, and he had viable post options in McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford -- a weakness of previous teams, even at Michigan. (With all due respect to Zak Novak, naturally.)
Still, without Burke, some change will have to be in order. So what will it be? More pure post-ups for McGary? Clear-outs for Robinson? Iso offense?! Say it ain't so!
"The biggest question is, what do you do at shot-clock time?" Beilein said. "Do you have shot-clock plays that could go anywhere? [With] 12 seconds, [do you have] five different looks? Or trusting one person? I think that will work itself out as the year goes on."
In other words: It ain't so. Michigan might tweak, and Beilein might tinker, but the things that got him from Newfane to the national title game are still firmly in the playbook. And why not?
Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we turn our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules and anywhere in between.