ATLANTA – It was at least 1 a.m. Sunday by the time Michigan arrived at the team hotel following Saturday night’s semifinal victory over Syracuse. Five hours later coach John Beilein was up and tackling the task most head coaches leave to their assistants: breaking down tape on Louisville and getting a handle on Rick Pitino’s defenses.
“I watched from 6 to 8,” Beilein said. “I’ll watch it the rest of the day. He has changed. Good coaches do. Actually faced his team at Kentucky, the championship team, when I was at Canisius [in 1996]. Faced him three times at West Virginia with two overtime losses and a win.
“He continues to change. That’s what I’m trying to measure right now is what he’s doing the best right now. And he does everything well.”
Beilein always has done his own scouting of opponent game tape. It’s probably a product of never having been an assistant coach.
“Unbelievable,” said assistant coach Jeff Meyer. “That is unique. You want to know what’s unique? He watches every practice, not just games, and he clips every practice. That is unique to any coach that I have ever worked for. After every practice we’ll have 30 clips. That is unique and I think it speaks to one of the reasons our teams continue to get better.”
The limited prep time during the tournament, especially for the second game of a round, forces coaches to rely on what they’ve taught throughout the season and hope their players respond accordingly.
“While I think a prep in one day has some effect, it’s not as significant as what you’ve been prepping for all year long,” Beilein said. “Like I said before, ‘Play with your eyes up. Pivot strong, pass strong, space the floor, really hit the open man, play as a team.’ Those things we’ve been stressing from the beginning. Maybe that’s why we’ve been able to be successful offensively through this tournament so far.
“What’s really unique is everyone has been very different, even though they’re all good defensive teams. VCU is an animal of its own with the way they continue to apply pressure to you. It’s different than Florida’s. I hope we can do one more, just one more game where we can put 60 to 70 points up there. We could have a ‘W’ if we can put up those number of points.”
It’s no surprise a contingent of more than 50 Western New Yorkers traveled to Atlanta to support Beilein. It’s been a common practice ever since the Burt native and former Newfane and DeSales Catholic player moved on from Canisius.
“So many people have followed this career, whether they went to West Virginia games, Richmond games,” Beilein said. “Every year there’s been a bus — except last year; they must have got out of hand two years ago. But 45 people from Lockport, from Danny Sheehan’s Steakhouse, would come to a game every year. We only lost one time, and that was to Syracuse.
“That’s what I love about what I do. Because of a game — maybe it’s free tickets sometimes — but we can bring people together, family together, that doesn’t see each other except at a family reunion or a high school reunion.
“I love that we won [Saturday] because they paid a lot of money to come. Especially from Buffalo to come down to Atlanta, especially in this nice weather now, for four days.”
Beilein said he has 44 nieces and nephews, 22 on his side of the family.
Louisville forward Chane Behanan has been familiar with Michigan guard Trey Burke, the national player of the year, since they were in grade school.
“I played against him a lot,” Behanan said. “It’s funny because I think it was fourth or third grade maybe. We both were playing up. So we might have been third grade and playing up fourth grade. This is the time he was on Jared Sullinger’s team and they came to Cincinnati and played in a tournament at Sports Plus in Edenton, Ohio, like 20 minutes outside Cincinnati. Looking down at him at warm-ups, I definitely underestimated him. Oh man, they blew us out.”
This will be the final game at Michigan for Blake McLimans, a senior with a year of eligibility remaining. He plans to play at another school next year, with speculation he’ll end up in the Big 4.
McLimans has been a bit player throughout his career but, as Beilein pointed out Sunday, while McLimans and some others won’t have their numbers retired at the Crisler Center they will be part of the banners that hang in celebration of this season.
“It’s surreal,” McLimans said Sunday. “Last night was a feeling like I’ve never had … It’s special to know that you’re a part of something like that and can come back to Michigan and know you’re a part of that legacy is something I’ll take with me the rest of my life.”
Michigan’s Burke failed to score in double figures for just the second time on the season and the fifth in his career in the 61-56 semifinal victory over Syracuse. He had seven points against the Orange and six in the second-round win over South Dakota State. … Michigan has had 10 or fewer turnovers 23 times in 38 games while Louisville has forced at least 11 turnovers in all 39 games. However, the Cardinals have just 35 takeaways total in the last three games after producing at least 20 in four of the previous five. … Louisville’s 15-game winning streak is its longest since 2003-04. … Pitino is the fifth coach to take two schools to the title game, joining Frank McGuire (St. John’s 1952 and North Carolina ’57), Larry Brown (UCLA ’81 and Kansas ’88), Roy Williams (Kansas ’91, 2003 and North Carolina ’05, ’09) and John Calipari (Memphis ’08 and Kentucky ’12). Pitino, who coached Kentucky to the 1996 crown, would become the first coach to capture titles at two schools with a victory tonight.