John Beilein only had to lie in the bed he made. His team had to die in it.
He chose to roll the dice on a scantly recruited freshman backup point guard in lieu of the national player of the year.
He tried riding the hot hand long after it cooled off.
He got too conservative with a player who deserved his unconditional trust.
He even had his own Chris Weber moment with the foul situation in the game’s final minute.
Michigan didn’t fumble away the national championship on Monday because its best wasn’t quite good enough. It lost because its best didn’t quite play enough.
Overnight sensation Spike Albrecht, the freshman reserve who scored all of 41 points in 31 regular season games while averaging less than eight minutes per, logged 28 minutes in the the program’s biggest game in two decades. Trey Burke, the winner of three separate national player of the year awards, lasted just 26. Somehow, a first-half flash in the pan had more equity in the championship game than the sophomore phenom who guided Michigan there in the first place.
Burke sat the final 11 minutes of the first half with two fouls, a stubborn John Beilein trademark of protecting players in foul trouble regardless of situation. After Albrecht’s storybook spurt put the Wolverines up 33-21 at the under-four media timeout, Louisville closed the half on a 16-5 run. Burke should’ve been on the floor then and there to thwart the surge. He was the steadying presence, the calming influence. This was the biggest stretch of the game, of Michigan’s season. But Beilein, married to an orthodox, inflexible philosophy, treated those four minutes like any other four-minute period. His fatal mistake.
Albrecht predictably notched zero points and three turnovers in the second half, crashing from his unsustainable, euphoric high in the first 20 minutes. By the time Burke returned to play fairytale hero, Louisville had seized control of the game and the narrative.
Beilein committed his final act of coaching arson with 30 seconds to play, when he rehashed the Chris Weber brain-freeze from his spot on the Michigan sideline. This wasn’t a spoof. The week-long jokes and punchlines involving Weber’s illegal timeout call materialized in one ill-conceived tribute.
With less than a minute to play and Louisville leading by four with the ball, Beilein lost track of Michigan’s foul situation. He instructed his players to trap in hopes of forcing a turnover, thereby salting away 13 precious seconds before the team intentionally fouled Gorgui Dieng. Lo and behold, the Wolverines still had a foul to give. Louisville had a second opportunity to waste more time and work the ball into a better free throw shooter.
The Cardinals did both. Louisville wasted another eight seconds before getting the ball to Cool Hand Luke Hancock, who calmly sunk both free throws to extend Louisville’s lead to six. Championship settled.
All thanks to the Michigan head coach, of course, who in one fell swoop forgot where he was (the national championship game, with the national player of the year on his roster) yet remembered precisely where his program came from (an infamous last-minute blunder on the same stage 20 years earlier, which the coach mindfully reenacted).