On The Wing: ‘It’s not too late to hop on the Beilein, Michigan bandwagon’



Former Canisius men’s basketball head coach John Beilein will be appearing in his second National Championship game with Michigan on Monday. (Ashley Dorcely/The Griffin file photo — Photo first published on March 7, 1997)


By Marshall Haim

Sports Editor

He owns the best win percentage in Canisius basketball history amongst coaches with at least five seasons at the helm of the program (.589). He has the fifth most victories in program history (89).

After his five-year tenure on Main Street from 1992-97, he spent five years each at Richmond and West Virginia before calling Ann Arbor, Michigan home in 2007.

He hails from Burt, New York, a hamlet in the town of Newfane in Niagara County, approximately a 50-minute drive from the campus of Canisius College.

The man I am alluding to — if you haven’t figured out by now — is John Beilein.

Beilein and his Michigan squad defeated this year’s Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament, Loyola-Chicago, in the Final Four at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, 69-57, Saturday night.

It will be Beilein’s second appearance in the National Championship game, both while at Michigan. The last time the Western New York native appeared in the national title game was in 2013 when the Wolverines lost to Louisville before the title was eventually vacated by the NCAA in late February.

Regardless of Saturday’s result, Canisius fans would have had a rooting interest regardless if Loyola-Chicago or Michigan won.

Loyola-Chicago made their second Final Four appearance and their first since they won the entire tournament in 1963. They are a Jesuit school, just like Canisius, and had won over the hearts of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people across the country thanks to Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt.

Of the 68 teams in this year’s tournament, only three teams were Jesuit schools. Gonzaga and Xavier were the others.

With Michigan winning Saturday’s national semifinal it makes the story a lot sweeter, especially from the Canisius perspective.

Beilein, then a 39-year-old coach, inherited a Canisius program that went just 8-22 in 1991-92. He was coming off a nine-year tenure at LeMoyne College, a Division II school outside Syracuse. Beilein had a 163-94 overall record with the Dolphins, a .634 win percentage.

In Beilein’s first year at Canisius and at the Division I level, he led the Griffs to a sixth-place finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) with a 10-18 overall record and a 5-9 conference record.

The following year was the beginning of a four-year span of success for the Griffs as Beilein helped Canisius to a 22-7 record, including a 12-2 mark in the MAAC. The Griffs finished in first place that year, marking the last time the Griffs had sole possession of the MAAC regular season title.

The 1994-95 season was, arguably, the most memorable for Canisius fans as the Griffs finished the year with a 21-14 record and 10-4 in MAAC play. Canisius made it all the way to the NIT semifinals that year playing a pair of games at Madison Square Garden. Canisius lost to the eventual champion, Virginia Tech, in the semifinals before losing to Penn State in the third-place game.


John Beilein (top right-hand corner) in his customary white shirt and tie celebrates with Canisius after winning the 1996 MAAC Tournament title. (Ashley Dorcely/The Griffin file photo – photo first published on March 8, 1996)

In Beilein’s second-to-last season at Canisius, he helped Canisius make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 39 years. The team reached the Big Dance despite having a 7-7 conference record and a 19-11 overall record.

The 7-7 record was the fifth-best in the MAAC that year. Canisius would end up losing to No. 4 seeded Utah in the first round.

Since his NCAA Tournament run with Canisius in 1996, Beilein has been to the Big Dance on 11 occasions and to the NIT on four other occasions.

He led Richmond to the NCAA Tournament in his first year before making it to the NIT in his final two years with the Spiders. In five years at West Virginia, Beilein made four postseason appearances with the Mountaineers, twice in the NCAA Tournament and twice in the NIT.

Prior to last year’s Sweet 16 run with Michigan, the Wolverines were tied for fifth in the Big Ten with a 10-8 conference record. This year, Beilein’s team was tied for the fourth-best record in the Big Ten (13-5) and are in the National Championship.


Since leaving Canisius in 1997, John Beilein (far left) has made 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. (Ashley Dorcely/The Griffin file photo – photo first published on April 11, 1997)

Michigan earned their spot in the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big Ten Tournament in back-to-back years, the first time that has happened in program history.

Regardless if they had won the Big Ten regular season championship or not, Michigan would have made it into the tournament and would have made the exact same run that they made. How? Beilein is just that good of a coach.

Something about the words “March” and “Madness” click with Beilein and his teams, which means it’s not too late to hop on the Beilein and Michigan bandwagon.

Michigan (33-7) has currently won 14 consecutive games, a streak that dates all the way back to Feb. 11. Of the 14 straight wins, 11 of them have come away from Ann Arbor. Their 33 wins are also a new program record.

In the 14-game win streak, Michigan has limited the opposition to score just 62.1 points per game. Their opponents have also scored under 60 points on five occasions in that span.

The Wolverines are led by Moritz Wagner, Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. All three players average double-digit point totals, while Wagner and Matthews both average at least five rebounds per game.

Wagner played a pivotal role for the Wolverines in Saturday’s win over the Ramblers. The Berlin, Germany product became the third player in the last 40 years to have at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal game, joining Larry Bird (Indiana State vs. DePaul – 1979) and Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston vs. Louisville – 1983).

A staple of Beilein’s teams is their defense. In Saturday’s national semifinal, Michigan limited the Ramblers to score just 16 points in the final 14 minutes. Loyola-Chicago turned the ball over eight times in that span while shooting 7-of-19 from the floor and 0-of-5 from three-point range. In comparison, Michigan shot 12-of-18 from the floor (66.7 percent) and turned the ball over twice in that span and went 4-of-10 from three-point range.

That is just how Beilein’s teams function, and to think that Michigan trailed by seven points going into halftime.

In Monday’s National Championship against Villanova on Monday, Beilein will be vying for his 800th career victory.

Villanova shot the lights out on Kansas, coasting to a 95-79 victory over the Jayhawks. The 16-point loss is tied for the third-largest in Kansas’ NCAA Tournament history. The Wildcats made 18 three-point field goals, which is tied for the second-most in an NCAA Tournament game and established a new Final Four record.

Monday’s game will be the first meeting between Villanova and Michigan since 2014 when the Wildcats won in the Progressive Legends Classic in Brooklyn. It is the fourth all-time meeting between the two schools, all occurring at a neutral site. Villanova has a slight advantage in the series, 2-1, winning the last two meetings in 2014 and in the 1985 NCAA Tournament. Michigan won the first meeting in 1970.

The Wolverines will need to play with Beilein’s lockdown defense, like they have as of late, to enable Michigan to win their second NCAA Championship and their first since 1989.

With support from fellow Western New Yorkers, the Canisius and Michigan communities, Beilein will be making many people proud once he is hoisting the trophy late Monday night in San Antonio.


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