Title team of ’89 ranks as Michigan's best of recent vintage

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

With their surprising run this season, Michigan is making its eighth trip to the Final Four in school history. While only one of those finished with a national championship, many of them were unanticipated runs.

The title team of 1989 started the NCAA Tournament with some turmoil, as head coach Bill Frieder opted to take the coaching job at Arizona State, opening the door for interim coach Steve Fisher to lead that team to the national title.

Examine the 2013 squad that had been No. 1 earlier that season, but entered the tournament with little momentum and put together a surprising run before losing to Louisville in the championship game.

Consider the Fab Five teams that made it to back-to-back title games in 1992 and ’93. Certainly, there’s plenty of controversy around them — but yes, those games happened, even if they’re not in the record books officially, because of the Ed Martin scandal.

Looking at each team, it’s difficult to compare and contrast, because of different eras. Cazzie Russell’s squads in 1964 and ’65, along with the 1976 team were playing a different kind of basketball than the current era.

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Here’s a ranking of the last five Michigan teams to make the Final Four:

1. 1989 national championship team (30-7, 12-6 Big Ten)

Two words: National champions. Two more words: Glen Rice. They finished the regular season in third place in the Big Ten and got a No. 3 seed in the tournament. They started at No. 3 in the Top 25 and rolled through their first 11 games, before a surprising loss to Alaska-Anchorage.

Rice averaged 25.6 points and shot a ridiculous 52 percent on 3-pointers and Rumeal Robinson made the final two free throws for the lead in the title game against Seton Hall. Terry Mills, Loy Vaught and Mark Hughes were strong post options and Sean Higgins was an underrated guard, along with Kirk Taylor and Demetrius Calip.

2. 1993 Fab Five (31-5, 15-3)

There wasn’t much difference between the two Fab Five squads, except that the sophomore version featured Chris Webber as the leading scorer and they were a more cohesive group, boasting Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King. This squad gets the nod because it started as the preseason No.1 and never dropped out of the top 10 and handled the pressure for the whole season.

That team set the school record for wins in a season, which was tied by the ’13 squad and surpassed by the ’18 team. They eventually lost to North Carolina in the title game with the infamous Webber timeout but the back-to-back title games remains their legacy.

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3. 1992 Fab Five (25-9, 11-7)

They burst onto the scene and changed the culture and look of college sports, with their saggy shorts, black socks and shoes and balds heads, and by eventually starting all five freshmen. They served notice in a mid-December loss to Duke on national TV that they would be a team to be reckoned with — and backed up their brash image and trash talk all the way to the title game. They fell apart and lost the rematch in the championship to the Blue Devils.

Senior Rob Pelinka was the one link to the ’89 championship squad but youth reigned as soon as the youngsters arrived on campus. The veteran bench was solid, with Eric Riley, Michael Talley, James Voskuil and Freddie Hunter, but this was a grooming year before they took off as a bigger national phenomenon as sophomores.

4. 2013 runners-up (31-8, 12-6)

Under John Beilein, the ’13 squad, led by Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson and Jordan Morgan, made Michigan’s first Final Four appearance in 20 years. They won their first 16 games and earned the No. 1 ranking at the end of January, but stumbled into the NCAA Tournament with a 6-6 mark the rest of the way.

The season will be remembered for Burke’s 3-pointer late in the Kansas game in the Sweet 16, which helped overcome a 14-point, second-half deficit. They got past Florida and Syracuse before falling to Louisville in the championship game. This was the an affirmation of Beilein’s tenure, when questions abounded.

5. 2018 squad (32-7, 13-5)

The book still is being written about this version of the Wolverines. Getting to the title game could vault them past the ’13 team and winning a championship could put them ahead of the Fab Five in the minds of many. For what they lack in name recognition, they more than compensate for with their ferocious team defense. They finished fifth in the conference in the regular season and won the Big Ten Tournament and rounded into form after an up-and-down regular season.

It might be Beilein’s best coaching job, as he began the season with plenty of uncertainty about his roster, but put things together as the season wore on.