VANDYKE: U-M basketball, MSU football revel in the shadows of the spotlight

Josh VanDyke • Mar 30, 2018 at 12:15 AM

"Little Brother" is a verbal barb used by some Michigan football fanatics to instigate a rise from their in-state rivals when the scoreboard is no longer their ally.

While the phrase has been used less and less over the past decade with Michigan State winning eight of the last 10 meetings on the gridiron, the same mocking jokes that Spartan fans have thrown at Michigan fans during basketball season have subsided, as well.

It's often said that there is a thin line between love and hate. Sometimes the things we despise the most are things that hit close to home in our own lives when we are staring back at the mirror.

When it comes to Michigan basketball fans and Michigan State football fans, that image in the mirror has some striking similarities.

The most obvious one is that both programs are viewed as the sidekick to the other big sport at their school. Most Michigan fans will hop on the hoops bandwagon during the trail end of the schedule, while Michigan State fans are quick to turn their attention to basketball once the football team is out of the running for any significant hardware.

That's the unfortunate part because both programs have done a fair share of winning in recent years under head coaches John Beilein and Mark Dantonio.

In the last six seasons, the Michigan basketball program has been to two Final Fours, three Elite Eights, four Sweet 16s, won 15 NCAA Tournament games, two Big Ten Tournament Championships, one Big Ten Regular Season Championship and produced seven NBA Draft picks.

Yet, we never hear a peep about what John Beilein is doing to resurrect the Michigan basketball program into title contention. Instead, most of the media hang on every word that Jim Harbaugh utters, despite the Wolverines football squad failing to finish better than third in the Big Ten East Division during in his tenure.

The Michigan State football program has had double-digit wins in six of the last eight seasons under Mark Dantonio. The Spartans have won three Big Ten Championships, five bowl games (including the Rose Bowl), 60 Big Ten Conference games, 20 games against AP Top 25 opponents, appeared in the College Football Playoff and won 100 games overall during his 11-year tenure in East Lansing.

Despite winning all those marquee games, Dantonio rarely finds himself in the limelight. Instead, Tom Izzo's quest for a second National Championship is often the narrative published and posted about, both nationally and statewide, while his teams haven't made the Sweet 16 in three years.


You can even take the comparison a step further and discuss the two men themselves. Both Beilein and Dantonio share a stoic expression when pacing the sidelines (with their arms folded more often than not). An occasional snarl may wash over their faces when an objectionable call is made or a player on his team makes a mental mistake in a big moment.

But recently, the only look on their faces has been wry smiles as they hoist championship trophies into the sky.

Both Beilein and Dantonio are open about their religious beliefs and both were born and raised in the Catholic Church. They have discussed with the media how their faith has helped buoy them during the stressful times in their line of work, and have never been shy when speaking of their love of God and their family.


Another similarity is the ability of both coaches to take undervalued recruits and turn them into mega-producers at the college level.

At MSU, Dantonio has helped turn two-star high school recruits like Kirk Cousins and Le'Veon Bell into NFL Pro Bowlers. Beilein has turned unknown commodities like Caris Levert and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman into primetime performers for the Maize-and-Blue.

The "chip on the shoulder" mantra is a popular one for Dantonio to discuss when he feels like his team is being disrespected and Beilein has used the same cliche to represent the aggressive nature that his team takes heading into big tournament games.

They've embraced the underdog role and they've used that to their advantage during their time leading their programs to prominence.


There's also plenty of things that separate the two men when compared to each other. One example is how each of them views their in-state rival.

Dantonio embraces the hate involved in the rivalry game against Michigan. He's endeared himself to many Spartan fans by barking back at some of the pointed questions by Southeast Michigan media members and Michigan players. He even engaged Jim Harbaugh in a Twitter spat during the bowl season. He has made his view pretty clear on what he thinks of the Wolverines.

Beilein, on the other hand, has been mostly indifferent about the rivalry game on the hardwood, despite holding a 9-8 series record over MSU in his 11 years in Ann Arbor. He has said on more than one occasion that he views a game against the Spartans as just one important game in a schedule filled with important games.

Both coaches use different philosophies to win big games.

Dantonio wins with stout defense and special teams mastery, while Beilein wins with a fireworks display on offense. His teams rely on space, pace and a heavy dose of the three-pointer to light up the scoreboard. In fact, this year's Wolverines squad might have the best pick-n-roll offense in America when they are on their game.

Beilein and Dantonio also have traveled down different roads to becoming dominant Division I head coaches.

Dantonio was a graduate assistant at Ohio, Purdue and Ohio State before becoming a defensive coordinator at Youngstown State. From there, he parlayed his successes into a role as the defensive backs coach at Kansas and Michigan State before becoming the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. With the Buckeyes, Dantonio was on staff when they won a National Championship in 2002.

Dantonio would get his first head coaching job at Cincinnati in 2004, and eventually became the head coach of the Spartans in 2007.

Beilein might have the most unique path of any head coach in America. He has never served as an assistant coach at any point in his coaching career and has worked his way up the competitive ladder. He started off as the varsity boys head coach at Newfane High School (New York).

From there, he took the reins at Erie Community College (New York), Division III Nazareth College in Rochester, New York; Division II Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York; Canisius College in Buffalo, New York; the University of Richmond in Virginia, and West Virginia University before taking over in Ann Arbor in 2007.

While neither coach has won a National Championship, Beilein has appeared in his sport's final game. He might even be on the verge of capturing his first National Championship this weekend in San Antonio with a team that seems to have the perfect mix of offensive talent, defensive intensity and a little bit of luck.



Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas


No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, 6:09 p.m. (TBS)

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas, 8:49 p.m. (TBS)



Semifinal winners, 9:20 p.m. (TBS)


Michigan (-5.5) over Loyola-Chicago

Villanova (-5) over Kansas


To win National Title

Villanova (1 to 1)

Michigan (13 to 5)

Kansas (17 to 5)

Loyola Chicago (11 to 1)





"The Wolverines proved against Texas A&M that they can score with the best of them when they get going downhill. But, that was just one game. The others were even more encouraging, as Beilein and company fought through poor shooting, crummy star play and tough defense for some truly ugly wins. I like Michigan over Loyola, 65-52.

"Kansas has put together an inspiring final stretch of the season, surging from deep in the Big XII standings to win their 14th straight title and a bid to the tournament. Villanova is the best offensive team in the country and has their sights set on the title game. I expect them to continue to hold their 80-plus point scoring average on the way there. Villanova over Kansas 85-74."


"I've got Michigan over Loyola-Chicago (72-55) and Villanova over Kansas (85-80) in my re-do Final Four bracket. I think Michigan's defense has been outstanding this entire tournament, which has allowed them to survive some off-shooting nights. I think they roll past the Loyola Fighting Jeans in the second half. I think Villanova is the most complete team in the country and I don't think Kansas can match them on offense for 40 minutes (and maybe more).



"Michigan vs. Villanova. Just like my bracket predicted. It will take a Herculean effort by the Wolverines to be able to score with Nova and an uncharacteristic defensive effort to stay relevant. If Xavier Simpson can keep his quick hands creating turnovers, Mo finds his three-pointer, and the Michigan bench can get involved, I like their chances. Sacrificing defense for offense will be a tempting move in this game to try and keep up, but Michigan must maintain a balance to have a shot. Michigan 78, Villanova 76


"Our Tribune composite pick at the start of the tournament was Villanova over Michigan and I am going to stick with that. I think the Wildcats and Wolverines will play a wildly entertaining game that will feel like a semi-pro version of Warriors-Rockets. In the end, the Wildcats will be too much for Big Moe and company as Jay Wright adds another pinstripe to his suit and his second title in three seasons." Villanova 90, Michigan 85

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