Beilein makes Michigan best bet from Big Ten

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

March 17, 2018 09:10 AM
John Beilein coached Michigan to the Big Ten tournament title. The Wolverines are small favorites against Houston on Saturday.
© USA Today Sports Images

In March, when underdogs and Retrievers grab headlines, John Beilein consistently wins without much media attention. He wins not because he always has a roster stacked with McDonald’s All-Americans. He recruits the right players who fit his system, and he’s a coach who adjusts on the fly and puts a team on the floor that can win different types of games.

Michigan can win ugly games, as it did in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and it can win shootouts.

Tony Bennett is a great coach with a fatal flaw. Virginia knows only one way to play, and that’s in slow motion. The Cavaliers were exposed Friday night and lured into the most embarrassing upset in college basketball history.

The Pac-12 has been humiliated this week, but Arizona’s blowout loss to Buffalo became a Page 2 story when the Atlantic Coast Conference champs were crushed by UMBC.

The Big Ten put only four teams in the tournament, and while none were upset in the first round, three of those teams might not go much further. Michigan State is running out of gas during a season with too much drama. Purdue just lost 7-foot-2 senior Isaac Haas to a fractured elbow. Ohio State is fading and in the underdog role in the second round.

The Wolverines do not face an easy road to the Final Four in San Antonio, but they are the league’s best bet because Beilein is a coaching wizard who has a versatile team capable of taking down any opponent in the bracket.

Michigan has big shooters — 6-11 Mo Wagner, 6-8 Duncan Robinson, 6-6 Charles Matthews and 6-4 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman — to stretch defenses. It also has 6-foot guard Zavier Simpson, a defensive menace who plays with attitude.

When the gates opened Thursday night, the Wolverines walked out sluggishly and trailed Montana 10-0. Beilein did not go berserk, and Michigan recovered to beat the Grizzlies 61-47 in a game best described as hideous. But that’s OK, mainly because it means Michigan probably will play much better in Saturday’s second round against Houston.

The Cougars needed 39 points from senior guard Rob Gray, the team’s only double-digit scorer, to hold off San Diego State 67-65. The Aztecs broke down on the defensive end, especially on Gray’s drive for the winning layup.

This matchup favors a Michigan team that can win several ways without relying on one scorer. I’ll bet on Beilein and the Wolverines to advance.

Saturday’s plays: Michigan (-3) over Houston; Texas Tech (-1½) over Florida; Gonzaga (-3½) over Ohio State; Buffalo (plus-6) over Kentucky.

Sunday’s plays: Butler (plus-3½) over Purdue; Syracuse (plus-8) over Michigan State; Cincinnati (-7) over Nevada.

Friday: 2-4 against the spread; Tournament: 4-6-1.

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