A little bit of the sting still lingers, for Big Ten champions who got shown the door to the Dance just after the music began. At the same time, John Beilein isn't putting a timeline on how long his team should face the music this year.
He knows better than to heap pressure on a crew that plays five freshmen for extensive minutes, and that - for all its strong points - still carries notable deficits. Beilein wants the Wolverines playing as relaxed as possible on the big stage, beginning Thursday night against South Dakota State.
Casual fans will laugh at the crew from the very center of nowhere. They'll encounter the name of 6-4 point guard Nate Wolters for the first time when the game comes on, and they'll hear that this kid will probably play in the NBA at some point.
Even then, they'll wave off any chance that Michigan could bow out against a team like that, a team of Jackrabbits. Ah, short memories.
Just one year ago, the Wolverines couldn't possibly lose to Ohio - no, not that Ohio. Ohio University, with hot point guard D.J. Cooper, made for a cute little March Madness storyline, but had as much chance against Michigan as baby seals in a polar bear den.
Then the Bobcats beat Michigan, 65-60. Then they knocked off South Florida, advancing to the Sweet 16. Then they took Midwest Regional No. 1 seed North Carolina to overtime before finally bowing out.
In other words, John Groce's team slipped off one of the Cinderella shoes assigned it before the tournament, and immediately began slamming the heel into the eye sockets of all comers. That's March Madness.
And with more and more players from top programs leaving early for the professional ranks, there might be more unpredictability than ever before, Beilein stressed.
"The way the tournament is now, it's not like it used to be," he said. "When you first went to 64 teams, a lot of people were staying for three or four years, and a lot of juniors and seniors were playing in this for the top seeds. It's not like that anymore. You've got juniors and seniors at the mid-majors, playing against freshmen and sophomores at the high-majors, and that's pretty even."
So when the question eventually popped up - does his team need to at least get out of the first two rounds in Auburn Hills to show some real progress - Beilein wasn't having any of it. Two days prior to the SDSU match-up, he wasn't about to make it make-or-break.
"As long as we're in contention every year for a Big Ten championship, and that we go into the NCAA Tournament every year saying, 'Okay, we're going to do the best that we can
'" Beilein offered.
"We are moving forward and not looking back. No matter what happens in this NCAA Tournament, we are moving forward. You look at the makeup of our team, and the recruits coming in, we're moving forward."
They've moved a lot. They won the Big Ten last year, the first Michigan team to do so since 1986. They came as close as anyone can possibility come to winning it, yet not, again this year - missing free throws, a driving shot by the Sports Illustrated National Player of the Year, and a follow-up tip that rolled off the rim for a devastating one-point loss.
With the recruiting classes stacking up, they'll be in Big Ten contention for years to come. An NCAA breakthrough - at least to the Sweet 16 - would certainly be welcome. But it's not, and can't be, an all-or-nothing proposition in terms of where the Wolverines are headed.
That said, Beilein wants to win more than any dozen hyper-intense bracket-browsers combined. He just knows how difficult it is. He harkened back to his Elite Eight squad with West Virginia, and how it needed to sandwich a pair of buzzer-beater victories around a double-overtime win to get there.
Even given the disclaimers, the Wolverines need to make it happen, he said.
"They know how well they've done, how they've gotten to this point," Beilein said. "Now let's seize the day. Let's go after it, with everything that we can, one day at a time."
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial