Michigan players not focused on coach’s past

Beilein took West Virginia to Elite Eight in ’05

Michigan's Glenn Robinson III steals the ball from Kansas' Naadir Tharpe during overtime of a regional semifinal game Friday. The Wolverines will play Florida today for a spot in the Final Four.
Michigan's Glenn Robinson III steals the ball from Kansas' Naadir Tharpe during overtime of a regional semifinal game Friday. The Wolverines will play Florida today for a spot in the Final Four.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Having grown up in Canada, Nik Stauskas explained that college basketball wasn’t on the same radar as, say, hockey or professional basketball. Therefore, he wasn’t aware of an unlikely Big East team that took the 2005 NCAA tournament by storm.

“I was more of an NBA guy when I was growing up,” admitted Stauskas, a freshman guard for the Michigan men’s basketball team.

And even though Tim Hardaway, Jr., grew up in a household with a parent who made his living for 13 seasons as an NBA point guard, he said he wasn’t well enough in tune with college basketball.

Neither of Michigan’s players could recall the spring of 2005, when both were in grade school and John Beilein embarked on his first lengthy NCAA tournament run as a college basketball coach.

Yet it’s a run that Beilein and his current team, the No. 4-seeded Wolverines (29-7), will match today when they face third-seeded Florida (29-7) at 2:20 p.m. in an Elite Eight game at Cowboys Stadium.

“We’re focusing on Florida and their concepts,” Hardaway said. “We just have to be ready for Florida, and we cannot worry about anything in the past.”

Beilein coached at West Virginia from 2002 to 2007 but his current players said he doesn’t mention West Virginia’s 2005 NCAA tournament run.

The closest Hardaway has gotten to watching that team was during his first year at Michigan, when Beilein dusted off game footage from his five seasons with the Mountaineers and set some expectations for his new players at Michigan.

“He wanted us new guys to get a sense of what he’s looking for in his offense, just looking at the film from West Virginia when they made that run in the NCAA,” said Hardaway, whose program plays in its first Elite Eight game since 1994. “It was from the regular season, and it was great to watch that.”

In the spring of 2005, Hardaway was 13 and Stauskas 11. The Catholic Church was a few weeks away from electing a new pope and the critically acclaimed movie Million Dollar Baby, starring Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank, won four Academy Awards, including best picture.

North Carolina won the 2005 NCAA basketball championship, but as that year’s tournament progressed, No. 7 West Virginia defeated Creighton, Wake Forest, and Texas Tech to reach its first Elite Eight since 1959.

Louisville beat West Virginia 93-85 in overtime in Albuquerque in an Elite Eight game — a game in which the Mountaineers led 40-27 at the half, on account of a 10-for-14, first-half effort from 3-point range.

West Virginia’s shooting efforts flustered Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

“I’ve never abandoned a whole scouting report at halftime,” Pitino told reporters after the game. “But it had to be abandoned.”

West Virginia had experience working in its favor in the spring of 2005; Michigan’s youth, Beilein said, has played beyond its years this season.

“When you have teams like that, you always have a chance,” Beilein said. “Here’s the commonality — great kids who play hard and work together.”

While this year’s Michigan squad has a penchant for shooting — the Wolverines enter today’s game against Florida sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage (48.6 percent) and boast one of the nation’s top 30 scorers in sophomore point guard Trey Burke (18.9 points per game) — Beilein insisted that his team at Michigan bears little resemblance to the West Virginia team he coached to the Elite Eight eight years ago.

The trademark of that 2004-05 West Virginia team? Its ability not just to shoot, but to shoot well, and to be daring with its shots.

“He had a lot of experience, and a shooting five that really stretched the floor,” Hardaway said. “He had his son [Patrick] on the team, and he had smart guard play and smart wing play.”

But, Beilein said of Michigan, “this is a very different team because this is a very young team. Really young. This team is more athletic, and probably doesn’t shoot it as well in some positions as it does in some others.”

The 2005 tournament run drew attention to West Virginia and likely set a foundation for the next five years — Beilein’s team reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2006 and won the NIT in 2007, and Bob Huggins led the Mountaineers to the 2010 Final Four three years after Beilein left for Michigan.

What this year’s team has done, however, is to help restore legitimacy to the program under Beilein.

“This team right here is special,” Beilein said. “I don’t differentiate too much between one team and another, which one you think is more special.

“But what this one has accomplished this year, with 29 wins, has really been a great move in the right direction for us.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.