ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- One shot, that’s all it took.
As Michigan and Kentucky exchanged blows in one of the most memorable games of the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament, the feeling inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis that day was of the sense that the atmosphere warranted a photo finish.
One team, one player, one spectacular moment was surely going to end it -- and that’s exactly what did.
Michigan’s Caris LeVert stretched his arm as long as he possibly could in hopes of bothering a deep three from Aaron Harrison, but it just didn’t matter. 75-72 was the final, that dagger laden triple the final blow with 2.3 seconds remaining to prevent the Wolverines from advancing to their second straight Final Four.
Now just 11 days from the exhibition opener of the 2014-15 season at Crisler Center against Wayne State, Michigan coach John Beilein is still reminding his guys what the most important take away should be from that disappointment.
“We have this poem that we read the other day; it’s only one possession,” Beilein said Thursday at Michigan’s media day. “And it’s just this, sort of corny poem, about this guy who said ‘come on coach get off my back; it’s a turnover, there’s still 39 minutes to play.’
“But then the poem comes down to like in case you get it back, there’s one play left. And we talked about that cause Caris played exceptional defense on that, he was perfect but, is there one other play in that game that could’ve turned that game? And we mentioned just what you did.
“So, we’ll talk about that overall. I think we had an outstanding record last year in close games in the Big Ten. Those games weren’t decided in the last minute, they were decided maybe in the first minute. That’s a continued point of emphasis.”
Michigan averaged just 9.3 turnovers per game a year ago and will look to manage a similar number this season but will do so with a whole host of new characters possessing the basketball.
Yes, once again gone are two more first round NBA draft picks, this time in Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, and the Wolverines, much like a new pair of sneakers, are breaking in seven players in all that have yet to check into a college basketball game.
Is this a nervous time for Beilein and the coaching staff? Don’t tell them that.
“Here’s what I see, and I hope there’s a blind faith with our young guys right now that we couldn’t have been this successful in the past without the team first attitude,” Beilein said. “Without all of these fundamental drills that we do and I think that’s important.
“We have blind faith in them that they’re going to do what the coaches feel gives us the best chance for success. And they have to have blind faith in us that we know what the heck we’re talking about.
“And we’re not always going to be right and we’re going to change like the wind when we’re not but I just see that, when you’re coaching a young man and he’s all eyes and ears to what, very receptive to what you’re trying to teach him.”
Fortunately for Michigan, they do have capable and experienced hands in the form of LeVert who was an All-Big Ten second team selection a year ago, as well as emerging sophomores Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin to go along with fan favorite Spike Albrecht.
Careful not to pin too much pressure on any of his young but now veteran players, nor his actual freshmen, Beilein is in essence handing the keys to each, to guide and lead his team in the manner this program has now become accustomed to.
“I think in men’s basketball in particular, and you’ve got to talk about veteran leadership, I don’t think you can talk about senior leadership that much anymore,” Beilein said.
“At least at this level, the transfer of the NBA just happens so much more readily than it does and the numbers are so small so, I would say the veteran leadership is going to come from Max obviously, but Spike and Caris. But Derrick, if we had a core five, those would be the core five cause they have been so involved.”
“Don’t mistake any of them for a Zack Novak,” Beilein added. “But you know what, Trey Burke wasn’t a Zack Novak either and Stu Douglass was not and we’ve had different types of leadership. You find a way of making it work and the coaches have to be good leaders as well.”