Friday, February 02, 2007

Same collapse, different year

If Bill Martin intends to stick to his word, and plans on staying in Ann Arbor, then Tommy Amaker will be the men’s basketball coach at Michigan for a long time. That’s because Martin has said that as long as he is the Athletic Director, Amaker will be the coach at Michigan. It remains to be seen if Martin included an out-clause on that statement. I guess we’ll find out sooner than later. With Michigan basketball pulling its annual disappearing act, the only way Amaker isn’t out as Michigan coach is if Martin stubbornly stays true to his word.

The Michigan basketball team will miss the NCAA Tournament under Amaker for the sixth straight season. All sorts of players of varying talent have come and gone and the only constant has been a serious lack of preparedness and continuity from the basketball team. As much as I wanted Amaker to succeed at Michigan, he has shown that he doesn’t have what it takes to compete with the rest of the Big Ten. In my opinion, the only difference between Michigan and the upper-echelon teams of the Big Ten (Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin) over the last six years has been coaching. Every year, those other schools are at least competitive. Ohio State was on probation just like Michigan. MSU and Indiana have had years with marginal talent. Yet, they all have remained competitive. Like Michigan, those schools get their fair share of quality recruits. Some (MSU and now OSU) have a little more to work with. Michigan is nowhere near those schools in terms of on-court production. Even the comparatively weaker programs in the Big Ten (Minnesota, Iowa, and Purdue) have had success from time to time. It stands to reason that an average college basketball program would be able to make the NCAA Tournament at least once in six seasons. Six years is an eternity in the sports world.

Since Amaker has been able to keep the Michigan program on the up and up in terms of staying out of trouble, he may be accomplishing exactly what Martin had hoped he would. If that’s the case, then this post is a waste of time (if it isn’t anyways). If Martin is looking to help Michigan get back to semi-glory status, then he’ll have to thank Amaker for his hard work and send him on his way. I hate to say it but Amaker has left a very stale taste in my mouth with regards to hiring assistants and/or coaches without more than one season of success. Amaker didn’t have much success at Seton Hall but his Duke pedigree made him a hot commodity. Most people probably just assume that Amaker was hired by Michigan because of the success that he had at Seton Hall. In four seasons at Seton Hall, he lost 15 games three times. His records were 15-15, 15-15, 22-10, and 16-15. There is no question in my mind that his record at Seton Hall had nothing to do with his hire. He was hired because he was a Coach K protégé and because he had a clean-cut image. Martin took a chance on Amaker and, unfortunately, it has backfired. I don’t want to diminish what Amaker has done for the program. Amaker has made the college basketball world forget about Michigan’s NCAA troubles. There was a time when no self-respecting recruit would touch Michigan with a 500-mile pole. Thanks to Amaker, that isn’t an issue any longer.

Michigan needs to bring in a coach that has had success with inferior talent. Coaches that have succeeded with inferior talent are the fast ticket to restoring Michigan to national prominence. It would also benefit Michigan if it brought in a coach that has proven the ability to inherit an underachieving program and turn it into a force. In some respects, Martin has a convenient situation. He may soon be looking for both a new football coach and a new basketball coach. Ironically, the qualities and characteristics that Michigan should be looking for are the same for both programs. Both ‘M’ football and ‘M’ basketball have struggled to develop players and adjust game-plans. Both programs need coaches that can maximize talent. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a big name. In fact, the coaches that have had the most success in college basketball recently haven’t had the big names. Bill Self, Bruce Weber, and Thad Matta are just a couple of previously unheralded coaches that have had success in the Big Ten. Michigan needs a coach that will be able to win with whatever he inherits. That would require a coach that has proven an ability to excel with the X’s and O’s. Michigan is not to the point where it can expect recruits to beg for a scholarship offer. That only comes with winning on the big stage. The cycle has to be broken and the only way that will happen is if Michigan hires a coach that can win in the intermediate. That’s how downtrodden programs are able to rise from obscurity. I’ll be posting a list of potential candidates next week.

I know there are some Michigan fans out there that still want to give Amaker more time. I can understand the desire to be loyal to a man that has worked tirelessly to restore Michigan’s tainted image. Unfortunately, big-time collegiate sports are as much about wins and losses as they are about having integrity. I know a lot of people with integrity but that doesn’t mean they should be coaching a D-1 college basketball team. The goal is to be superior in both facets. Amaker has proven that he can’t lead a team to big things. I liken the situation to a dreadful contestant on American Idol that asks to sing one more song. It doesn’t matter how many songs they sing, the result is the same. You can either sing or you can’t. Amaker has had numerous chances to sing a different song and the result has been the same every time. As poor as Michigan has appeared over the last six years, the reality is much worse than that. Michigan has managed to somewhat save face by winning an exorbitant amount of games at home against terrible basketball teams. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the truth is probably much worse than you ever thought it was.

Here are some facts about Amaker’s coaching career:

--Amaker’s basketball teams have never finished with less than 10 losses.

--The only two teams in the Big Ten that Michigan has a winning record against under Amaker are Northwestern and Penn St. He is 17-3 against those two schools and 24-51 against everyone else. 41% of Amaker’s Big Ten wins have come against Northwestern and Penn St.

-- Michigan has finished above .500 in the Big Ten once in six seasons.

-- Michigan is 14-37 on the road in the Big Ten over the last six seasons. For comparison, Northwestern is 11-41.

--Of those 14 road wins, nine of them came against Northwestern and Penn St. That means Michigan has a 5-35 road record against Big Ten teams not named Northwestern and Penn St.

--Amaker’s teams have made the NCAA Tournament one time in ten seasons.

--Amaker’s teams have only finished above .500 in six of his ten seasons.

--In his six seasons at Michigan, Amaker is 29-64 against teams in the RPI 100. For comparison, Northwestern has 25 wins against the RPI 100 over the same time period.

--On the other side, Amaker is 64-13 against teams outside of the RPI 100. That equates to 69% of Amaker’s wins coming against teams outside of the RPI 100.

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