Wiedmer: Beilein's best can't stop Pitino

Wiedmer: Beilein's best can't stop Pitino

April 8th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

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ATLANTA - Logic says something has to give in tonight's NCAA championship game between Louisville and Michigan inside the Georgia Dome.

There would seem to be no way that U of L's Cardinals, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, could miss the same 10 free throws they bricked in Saturday's semifinal win over Wichita State, get out-rebounded and have two starters fail to score a single point and still win their first title since 1986.

Yet it would also seem next to impossible for Michigan star Tim Hardaway Jr. to again miss the 12 of 16 field goals he did in Saturday's win over Syracuse, again watch Wolverines point guard Trey Burke shoot 1-of-8 from the floor and imagine UM capturing its first crown since 1989.

And just to show you how much today's Wolverines remember those former stars, when Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom asked the Michigan starters to name the starters on those '89 champs, these responses followed:

Said sophomore point guard Trey Burke: "Rumeal Robinson, Glen Rice. Those are the only two that come to mind right now."

Added junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., whose father actually played against both those players in the NBA: "Same."

And freshman center Mitch McGary: "Same."

Glen Robinson III, whose father also squared off against the Wolves in the pros: "Same."

And freshman Nik Stauskas, who at least has the excuse he grew up in Canada: "Me, too."

Yet never has a fan base so hoped there's truth in the old saying that "Those who can't remember history are doomed to repeat it."

Let these Wolverines repeat the grand work done by that team of Rice, Robinson, Loy Vaught, Terry Mills, Mike Griffin, Mark Hughes, Demetrius Calip and Sean Higgins and the entire Maize and Blue Nation will forgive their scant knowledge of UM history.

But the most impressive work turned in by Michigan in this tournament has been that done by its coach, the nutty professor known as John Beilein, who has artfully guided the youngest team in the NCAA tourney -- three starters and four of the first seven are freshmen -- to the final game of the season.

As Beilein stated Sunday while comparing his path to this game with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who is coaching in his seventh Final Four while attempting to become the first coach to ever win an NCAA title at two different schools (Kentucky, 1996):

"Rick and I are about the same age ... he came through a different path than me. I bought his tapes back in the day when he was putting out all those great tapes. He's a guy I admire for the way he's always coached. He's been a guy who's not afraid to take on a challenge."

Nor is Beilein. At the start of this tournament -- knowing that a single misstep could end the Wolverines' most promising season of the six seasons he's been at UM -- he benched junior post player Jordan Morgan in favor of freshman Mitch McGary.

"There came a point I didn't want to get off to any more bad starts," said Beilein, who has posted at least one 20-win season at six different schools.

Thus has Michigan owned double-digit halftime leads in its last two games as McGary has soared to double-figure averages (16.4 ppg/11.7 rebs) in the tournament.

Yet his coaching is far from the only thing that makes Beilein special.

His family is said to be the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's classic film, "Saving Private Ryan," his uncle having lost two cousins on D-Day and his mother having a third cousin shot down over Burma the same week, though he was found alive over a year later.

"I grew up with that story and didn't think much about it until I watched the movie, until I had children of my own, and I could only imagine what that family went through," Beilein said.

On a lighter note, he also claims to be the world's biggest St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, despite being surrounded by Detroit Tigers fans.

"If they play 162 games, I'm listening to some part of probably 100 to 120 of them," he noted. I've even got them on my phone now. I don't have to drive on top of a mountain anymore. I have their app on my phone. It's my escape, the St. Louis Cardinals."

Unfortunately, there is no escaping Louisville's defense. As wonderful a coaching job as Beilein's done this season, Pitino has done a better one.

In a game that, sadly, shouldn't come close to mirroring the excitement of Saturday's semifinals, make it Cards 73, Wolverines 61.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.