His Wolverines can't match the Blue Devils' talent, depth or size, but Beilein's system and a confidence forged from a grueling schedule, give them a puncher's chance of upsetting the reigning national champs in their NCAA tournament game Sunday.
Duke (31-4) is the West Regional's top seed, but Michigan (20-13) already has played four games against the tournament's No. 1 seeds. The Wolverines lost three times to Ohio State by 20 points combined, and to Kansas by seven in overtime.
That's far better than Beilein fared against Duke on Dec. 1, 1992.
It was his first game as a Division I coach, and his squad, Canisius, was playing the two-time defending national champions at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Strolling into the gym for a pregame shoot-around, Beilein was stunned to see students camping in Krzyzewskiville, the tent city named for Mike Krzyzewski, the Devils' Hall of Fame coach.
"I go, 'Damn, they're set up in Krzyzewskiville to play Canisius?'" Beilein said. "I asked somebody, 'You're … camping out for the Canisius game?' He said, 'Heck, no, we play Michigan this weekend.'
"And so how ironic is that right now?"
Needless to say, 'twas not a fair fight. Duke won 110-62.
"I think we're down 32-24," Beilein said. "Coach K called a timeout, and I said, "Boy, I think we've got a pretty good team here. We can hang with Duke. It's 32-24.'
"The next thing I knew it was 62-26. I think they went on a 30-2 run against our Canisius team, and then Coach went zone, and I just said, 'Thank you so much.' Got back into a soft zone (defense) and let us at least come out of there with some dignity."
Krzyzewski professed to no recollection of the game.
"Look, I have a hard time remembering last week," he said. "I don't remember a lot of things. My wife complains about that a lot. I do remember birthdays, anniversaries, grandkids stuff, and all that. He's not coaching Canisius, nothing against Canisius. He's coaching Michigan."
Coaching the Wolverines exceptionally well, as he did the Richmond Spiders and West Virginia Mountaineers, programs he also guided to NCAA tournament victories. Richmond reached the second round in 1998, West Virginia the Elite Eight in 2005 and Sweet 16 in '06.
Beilein's teams are versatile defensively, often confusing opponents with a 1-3-1 zone. They spread the floor on offense, relying on 3-pointers and back cuts — think Princeton but with superior athletes.
"Coach does a really good job teaching it," Novak said of the zone, "and I think it's a good tool for us to have in our back pocket, just throw out there. I think it's changed the momentum of a number of games since I've been here, I know."
Novak, a junior, passes for a veteran on a senior-less squad with six freshmen, including Tim Hardaway Jr., son of the former NBA all-star. Novak and Hardaway were among seven Wolverines who scored 8-14 points in Friday's 75-45 thrashing of Tennessee, the most-lopsided NCAA tournament game ever between Nos. 8 and 9 seeds.
Duke is vastly more disciplined and less distracted than Tennessee, a program bracing for coach Bruce Pearl's possible dismissal. Moreover, with Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Andre Dawkins and brothers Mason and Miles Plumlee, the Devils are more tournament-tested than the Wolverines.
Michigan hasn't reached the Sweet 16 since 1994, but this is the program's second NCAA appearance in Beilein's four seasons.
"We just want to build this Michigan program so that it is back where we all want it to be and its a lasting and consistent program like you see in the Dukes and the Michigan States and Wisconsins and Ohio States," Beilein said, "They're all back here every year. That's where we want to be, and that's why I came to Michigan."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP