Fab 5: Time for New Ending

It wasn’t supposed to end that way.

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Once a long time ago, the Fab 5 ruled the world. As a University of Michigan during their reign, basketball made for a welcome diversion.

Their swagger, their style, and most of the all their play made them the talk of the country.

Wherever you went people were wearing Michigan gear.

Some older alums shunned their brazen style but most of the country embraced them as budding superstars.

As freshman they came up short in the national championship game but they returned to claim what was surely their pre-ordained  championship the following season.

Of course, we know what happened. Michigan didn’t win, falling to North Carolina 77-71 in the 1993 final. It was painful to watch.

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Chris Webber declared for the NBA draft and the Fab 5 were no more.

And in a perfect world the story would have ended there. A great team comes up short on the court but makes a huge cultural impact before eventually going  pro for NBA riches.

Of course, that wasn’t to be.

Mistakes made during their high school careers would come back to haunt some members of the Fab 5.

Webber, Rose, and Howard would go on to have successful NBA careers but the fallout from the booster scandal that began during their time in Ann Arbor and continued after their departure would result in many of their records being erased by the NCAA.

The scandal would also have grave implications for Michigan basketball program which struggled for years to dig out from the resulting sanctions.

Many Wolverine fans are bitter towards Chris Webber for his role in the scandal.

His comments about Michigan over the years haven’t done much to win over his detractors.

I should know, as I’ve carried around a lot of bitterness towards Webber since his role in the booster scandal became evident. But there is a lot of blame to go around from that era  starting with the coaches, parents, and administrators who all should have made better choices themselves. Not to mention a media (here’s looking at you Mitch Albom) who were eager to profit from the hoopla surrounding the Fab 5.

Webber’s mistakes now are over 20 years in past. It’s time to let it go. I doubt he’s the same person who made the wrong decisions back then.

And while I can’t imagine myself ever actively cheering for him, I’m done rooting against him. There’s too much positive happening with Michigan basketball under John Beilein to keep harping on 20 year old mistakes.

Tomorrow the Michigan Wolverine Basketball team will play for the National Championship in Atlanta. Many players on the team grew up idolizing the Fab 5.

At this point according to Jalen Rose, 4 of the Fab 5 will be present at the game. Only Chris Webber, who lives in Atlanta, has not confirmed his attendance.

Let’s be clear- this will be  a story whether Chris shows up or not. Right now the story depends on what choice Webber makes tomorrow. Hopefully Jalen will convince him to attend.

It would be a great boost for the team and maybe, just maybe, it would provide the groundwork for continued healing between Webber and the University of Michigan.

Webber can’t change the past but he does have an opportunity to inspire this current team by reuniting with his Fab 5 teammates in Atlanta.

It would be a great way to start writing a new ending for the Fab 5.

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Nothing But ‘Net – Week #24 – 04/07/2013 – One Win From Glory!

It’s Sunday morning, I’m in a hotel room in suburban Atlanta (Decatur), my throat is still raw, my hands are still stinging, and my ears are still ringing.  I only slept about 5 hours, and my head is a little fuzzy.  None of that matters, since Michigan won the game.

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team is in the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. and they won their semifinal game last night (04/06/2013) against (#16) Syracuse, 61-56, in the Georgia Dome.  Both teams are #4 seeds: UM in the South Region, and Syracuse in the East region.  The win raises Michigan’s record to 31-7.

The Syracuse game was frustrating.  I know that sounds odd for an important victory in the Final Four, but it’s true.  The Syracuse 2-3 zone was everything it was billed to be.  Syracuse has a lot of tall, quick, athletic players who know how to play that zone, and it just sucks the life out of their opponents.  Every halfcourt possession on offense for Michigan was the same thing, over and over: swing the ball back and forth across the top of the zone, hoping one of the defenders would be a half-step slow responding, giving the slimest of gaps to try to exploit.  Occassionally, try passing it to a big man at the free throw line, to see if the zone collapsed just a little too much, for a different slim gap to try to exploit.  Run the shot clock down to under 5 seconds, and take a desperation shot.  Maybe get the offensive rebound, maybe for a quick put-back, probably for a reset, and do it all over again.  And again.  And again.  Over and over.  It was very frustrating.

So, how do you beat a dedicated zone team, even a very good zone team?  Outside shooting.  Most teams (NOT Syracuse) will finally abandon their zone for man-to-man if you can hit enough outside shots to pull them out of the zone.  How did Michigan beat Syracuse’s zone?  I have no idea.  I saw it, and I’m looking at the stats, but I still don’t know how they did it.  They did hit eight 3-pointers (on 24 attempts = 33.3%), but they didn’t shoot very well overall (21-for-52 = 39.6%).  They shot free throws terribly (11-for-20 = 55.0%), and missed several clutch free throws at the end of the game, including the front ends of a couple one-and-ones.  It almost cost them the game.  They did win the rebounding battle (37-33), and they tied in the turnover battle (10-10).

Somehow, Michigan managed to build up a decent lead near the end of the 1st half, and lead by 11 (36-25) at halftime.  Syracuse chipped away at the lead for the entire 2nd half, and got as close as 3 points (48-45) with 7:53 to go, then within 1 point (57-56) with 41 seconds left.  Syracuse had the ball, down 3 points (59-56) with 15 seconds left, and took a 2-point shot (why?) with 9 seconds left.  They missed, and Michigan got the rebound and a breakaway dunk for the final margin of victory.

If I had told you before the game that Syracuse would hold Trey Burke to 7 points on 1-for-8 shooting, you would have asked “how badly did Syracuse crush Michigan?”  Trey did a nice job on defense (3 steals and a blocked shot), he had a few assists (4), and he was one of the few Michigan players to shoot free throws well (4-for-6), but he could not get his shot to fall.  I think he was as frustrated by the Syracuse zone as I was.

If I had told you before the game that Syracuse would hold Nik Stauskas scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting, you would have asked “did Michigan get within 30 points of Syracuse?”  Nik got his looks at the basket, and he tried four 3-pointers, but they all clanked.  He was the key to this game.  If he had gotten hot, like he did in the Florida game (6-for-6 from 3-point range), the game would have been much less frustrating.

So, that’s 2 of Michigan’s 5 starters.  How did the other 3 do?  Much better.  Tim Hardaway Jr. was the leading scorer for Michigan, with 13 points (on 16 shots!), including 3 of Michigan’s 8 triples (on 10 attempts!)  Glenn Robinson III  and Mitch McGary both had 10 points, and Mitch had 12 rebounds, for another double-double.  Mitch was a force in there, and he continued his hot tournament play.

For the first time this season, the Michigan bench came through and won the game.  With both Burke and Stauskas having terrible shooting nights, Michigan needed someone to come in an hit a couple 3-pointers to keep them in the game.  Actually, they needed 2 someones, and they got them:  Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert.  Spike went 2-for-2 from long range, and Caris went 2-for-3.  Spike only got those 6 points, but Caris hit a 2-point basket as well, and ended up with 8 points.  All 14 of those points were important points that we made a critical times in the game.  But wait, there’s more:  Michigan also got some bench points from their 2 reserve big men.  Jon Horford had 4 points and Jordan Morgan had 3, including that breakaway slam dunk to wrap up the game that I mentioned above.  So, that’s 21 points in a 61-point game.  Way to go, bench players!

This Week

One last game: the National Championship, on Monday (04/08/2013) at 9:23 p.m. on CBS, against Louisville.  Can Michigan beat them?  Yes.  They have the talent and the right mix of players to win.  Will they?  We’ll just have to play the game and see.

Check back on Tuesday to see what happened, and why.

Go Blue!

P.S. Sorry about the lack of links in this story.  New (to me) laptop, no Microsoft Word, using WordPad, ugh.

Nothing But ‘Net – Extra – Live From Atlanta! (04/06/2013)

Yup, my son (Eric) and I drove down from Milan to Atlanta yesterday, and we’re going to the Final Four games this afternoon. I’ll be writing my weekly column tomorrow, on a new-to-me laptop that doesn’t have Microsoft Word on it (hello, Wordpad!), so if these articles look a little different, that’s why.

The buzz down here is that Syracuse is going to end Michigan’s run to the title. We’ll see. UM has certainly played, and beaten, better teams this year. The big question is: can they keep playing with the intensity and focus that they’ve shown so far in the NCAA Tournament. Fingers crossed.

Go Blue!

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #23 – 04/01/2013 – Final Four Bound!

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team is going to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament! It’s been 20 years (1992-1993) since UM made it to the Final Four, but they finally did it. Michigan, the #4 seed in the South Region, played two games in the tournament last week, both in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (TX), and they won both of them. On Friday (03/29/2013), they beat the #1 seed, Kansas, 87-85 in overtime, then on Sunday (03/31/2013), they beat the #3 seed, Florida, 79-59. The two wins raise Michigan’s record to 30-7.

The Kansas game has to be the most impressive comeback in Michigan basketball history. Sure, they might have come from further behind late in some other game, but this was more impressive than any other comeback because of the situation and the opponent. The situation: an NCAA Tournament game, in the Sweet Sixteen, playing for a spot in the Elite Eight, on national TV. The opponent: #1 seed Kansas, a team that was also ranked #1 in the nation earlier in the season. The comeback: down 14 points (68-54) with 6:50 left in the game. Or, how about down 10 points (72-62) with 2:52 left? Not scary enough? Try: down 5 points (76-71) with 21 seconds left. It took an ice-water-in-his-veins step-back 3-pointer from Trey Burke with 4 seconds left to tie the game, and more heroics in overtime to win it. But, the 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime is “The Shot” that everyone will still be watching and talking about 20 years from now. In any case, it was a very impressive, and unexpected, comeback. Michigan had been behind almost the entire game, usually by 8-10-12 points. They looked beaten when the deficit grew to 14 points with less than 7 minutes left, but that’s when they caught fire. They were like a completely different team. It was amazing (a-maize-ing?)

After the tight, scary game vs. Kansas, we were expecting more of the same vs. Florida. Wrong. UM came out on fire, and got ahead 13-0 after just 3 minutes! The lead got as high as 24 points (41-17) in the 1st half, before sinking to “only” 17 points (47-30) at halftime. Florida staged a mini-rally (6-0) to get the lead back down to 11 points (47-36) in the first 2:30 of the 2nd half, but Michigan pushed the lead back up to 18 points (56-38) in the next 3 minutes, and never let it get below 14 points again. UM won going away, and it was an easy victory. All 15 players got to play, and even the senior scrubs scored on Florida. It was lots of fun.

Time for the stats, and they’re very interesting. In the Kansas game, Michigan shot pretty well overall (35-for-71 = 49.3%), and not too bad from 3-point range (8-for-23 = 34.8%). They shot pretty poorly from the free-throw line (9-for-17 = 52.9%), but they won the rebounding battle (38-35) and the turnover battle (10-13). Interestingly, Kansas shot better in all 3 phases of the game (overall: 36-for-66 = 54.5%, 3-pointers: 6-for-16 = 37.5%, free throws: 7-for-10 = 70.0%), but the extra possessions from rebounds and turnovers were enough to give UM the narrow victory. Michigan shot much better in the Florida game. Overall, they shot pretty well (30-for-65 = 46.2%), but they really shot well from 3-point range (10-for-19 = 52.6%). They shot free throws better (9-for-13 = 69.2%), but they narrowly lost the rebounding battle (35-36) and narrowly won the turnover battle (11-13). The big difference in this game was defense: they held Florida to 41.1% (23-for-56) overall shooting, and 20.0% (2-for-10) 3-point shooting.

Looking at the individual stats, 3 of the 5 starters hit double figures in both games:

  • Trey Burke – 23 points vs. Kansas and 15 points vs. Florida. All of Trey’s points vs. Kansas came in the 2nd half and overtime; he was shut out in the 1st half. He also had 10 assists vs. Kansas, for a double-double.
  • Mitch McGary – 25 and 11 points. Mitch continued his hot play in the NCAA Tournament. His 25 points vs. Kansas were another career-high, and he tied his career-high with 14 more rebounds vs. Kansas, for another double-double. Trey may have been the star in Michigan’s big comeback in the Kansas game, but Mitch kept Michigan close enough for most of the game so that Trey could still pull the game out at the end.
  • Nik Stauskas – 11 and 22 points. Nik managed to scratch out 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting in the Kansas game, but he went 1-for-4 shooting 3-pointers. Magically, he found his 3-point stroke in the Florida game, going 6-for-6. That was the Nik Stauskas performance we have been waiting for all season, and he picked the right time to do it. His 3-pointers destroyed Florida’s morale in the 1st half, and that made the victory easy.

All 5 starters hit double figures in the Kansas game, but only 3 of them did it in the Florida game. Here’s how the other 2 starters did:

  • Tim Hardaway Jr. – 10 points and 9 points. Tim had a rough week shooting, going 4-for-11 vs. Kansas and 3-for-13 vs. Florida. He was 1-for-3 and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. It was ugly.
  • Glenn Robinson III – 13 and 6 points.

The bench players didn’t play much vs. Kansas, but everyone played at the end of the Florida blowout. Here’s how they did:

  • Eso Akunne – DNP and 0 points.
  • Spike Albrecht – 3 and 7 points. Spike did a nice job giving Trey a rest, and he did pretty well when he and Trey were in the game together. He was a real spark in the Florida game, with 2 steals for layups and a nice 3-pointer.
  • Josh Bartelstein – DNP and 0 points.
  • Max Bielfeldt – DNP and 0 points.
  • Jon Horford – 0 and 6 points. Jon scored his 6 points vs. Florida in only 8 minutes.
  • Caris LeVert – 0 and 0 points.
  • Blake McLimans – DNP and 0 points.
  • Jordan Morgan – 2 and 0 points. Jordan played more minutes this week: 5 vs. Kansas and 6 vs. Florida. He looked more confident out there, and he was an asset on defense.
  • Corey Person – DNP and 0 points.
  • Matt Vogrich – DNP and 3 points. Matt hit a gorgeous 3-pointer in “garbage time” in the Florida game. It was sweet.

Yay! More bench scoring: 21 points in 2 games. It was great to get contributions from Albrecht and Horford. Michigan still needs more from LeVert and Morgan.

This Week

This is it: the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. It’s a great honor for Michigan to have made it this far, and they have exceeded most people’s expectations, but there’s no reason they can’t win one or two more games. This week, there is only one game, since the National Semifinal games are played on Saturday (04/06/2013) and the National Championship game is next Monday (04/08/2013). Michigan plays the #4 seed from the East Region, Syracuse, on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. EDT on CBS, in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (GA). If they win that game, they will play the winner of the (#1 Midwest) Louisville vs. (#9 West) Wichita State game.

Once again, Michigan matches up pretty well against any of the other 3 teams in Atlanta. Certainly, Louisville is the favorite to win it all, but Michigan has the talent to beat them. If they keep playing at the high level they’ve shown through the first 4 games, they’ll do fine. As I said several times in the last couple weeks, Michigan has the talent to win the whole tournament, and the youth and inexperience to lose to any team. We’ll just have to watch the games to see how they do.

Check back next week to see what happened, and why.

Go Blue!