Five Reasons The Michigan Wolverines Can Do What The Fab Five Never Did

Image Credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

The Fab Five are one of the most famous basketball teams of all-time. With their swagger, streetball style, and intoxicating youth, they changed college basketball.

But the Fab Five never won a college basketball title, though they reached the finals as freshmen and sophomores. The 2021 Wolverines, coached by a member of the Fab Five, can do what the former Wolverines never could: cut down the nets after a national championship game.

Why The Fab Five Were Iconic

College basketball for decades was a coach-centric sport. Stars came and went, but on campus and on the court, college teams adhered to a regimented structure. The word “program” was typically used to describe a college system. Individuality was not encouraged.

In 1991, five freshmen were recruited by Michigan coach Steve Fisher. Two were highly-touted hoopers from the state of Michigan: athletic forward Chris Webber and savvy point guard Jalen Rose. Then there was big Juwan Howard, one of the top-ranked high school players in Illinois. Finally, a pair of recruits from Texas: guard Jimmy King from Plano, and forward Ray Jackson from Austin.

The five freshmen were a highly-anticipated recruiting class in Ann Arbor, but they were not expected to make an immediate impact. That changed after the team stumbled a bit and lost three of four against Big Ten competition in January of 1992. That’s when Fisher started all five of the freshmen for the first time.

Playing basketball was only one of the ways the Fab Five made headlines. The other was their infectious enthusiasm and fashion-sense on the court. The Fab Five wore black sneakers, black socks, and baggy shorts. They personified hip-hop culture, and played the game with a flare that made it seem like they’d just stopped by for a pickup game. Despite all of them being 18 years when they started together for the first time, they melded together to form a tight unit, and they won games.

The five freshmen started every game in February for the Wolverines, down the stretch in the regular season and taking Michigan into the 1992 NCAA tournament as a #6 seed. With their popular look and youthful attitude, they surprised the experts by leading U of M to the championship game. In the finals, they were defeated by rival Duke, but the game was watched by more than 30 percent of the households in America.   

Here’s a list of the highest-rated* NCAA Men’s Basketball Finals ever:

  1. Duke vs. Michigan (1992)
  2. North Carolina vs. Michigan (1993)
  3. Michigan State vs. Indiana State (1979)
  4. Villanova vs. Georgetown (1985)
  5. North Carolina State vs. Houston (1983)

*Determined by percentage of households tuned to the game.

In 1993, as sophomores, the Fab Five led the Wolverines to the NCAA championship game again, this time losing a heartbreaker to the Tar Heels. But even though they lost, the Fab Five were the most famous basketball players in the world, rivaling NBA stars for popularity. Michigan jerseys with the names of the Fab Five accounted for more than 40 percent of all merchandise sales for the NCAA, and the 1993 finals game was again one of the top rated in history.

Webber left for the NBA Draft after the ‘93 season, and Rose and Howard followed after their junior years in Ann Arbor. All three played long careers in the NBA, and found success in the professional ranks. But, their time as part of the ensemble in the Fab Five makes them legendary. In 2011, ESPN released their film “The Fab Five,” which served as a tribute to the group. The documentary is the highest-rated sports documentary of all-time, proof that the iconic Fab Five will endure forever in sports history.  

How The 2021 Wolverines Can Win the NCAA Tournament

Dwight Howard is a father now, with a son playing for him at Michigan. His days as a member of the Fab Five are nearly three decades in the past. But his presence on the sidelines as head coach of the Wolverines has galvanized the program and his team is one win away from getting to the Final Four. Their most recent victory over Florida State shows how U of M could get the title Fab Five was unable to win.

Efficiency is boring. It’s not flashy, it’s not cool, it’s not documentary-worthy. The 2020-21 Wolverines are an efficient team, which is fine with Howard, because it leads to easy baskets.

The Wolverines made more field goals from within three feet of the basket than any team in the Big Ten. They like to set screens, cut to the paint, and transition into easy opportunities. They pass the ball down very well, as they proved in their impressive defeat of the Seminoles in the Sweet 16.

With 7’1 freshman center Hunter Dickinson occupying the middle, the Wolverines have a big presence near the basket. Dickinson, like his head coach, is proving to be a player ahead of his time, already being named second-team All-American in his first season. The lefty is a good passer, and with Brandon Johns Jr. and Austin Davis, he forms a wall of efficiency for Michigan down low.

So far, the Wolverines have followed a formula for success: ride the hot hand. Each game, a player or two steps up to push the team to victory. Guard Chaundee Jr., known more for his defensive play, came up with some important baskets in the second round, and Mike Smith never took his foot off the gas in the win over Florida State, pushing the ball up court past a less-inspired opponent. Guard Franz Wagner is described by the U of M website as a “versatile, savvy combo guard using length, athleticism to play three perimeter positions.” With his peregrine falcon wingspan, ability to stroke a three or slash to the basket, Wagner has provided a spark for Howard’s team in the tournament.

The Wolverines are not a team of superstar freshmen, and they’re playing without their best player, Isaiah Livers, who will miss the tournament with an injury. But under the guidance of Howard, who spent 19 seasons in the NBA learning more about basketball than practically anyone alive, Michigan is a dangerously efficient team. They stand only three wins from showing how important “team” is to success.

Odds For Michigan/UCLA Elite Eight Game

Here are the current odds for Michigan for their game against UCLA, scheduled for Tuesday, March 30:

Sportsbook Point Spread Moneyline Totals
Golden Nugget -7 (-110) -300 136 (-110)
FanDuel -7 (-110) -310 136 (-110)
WynnBET -7 (-110) -325 135.5 (-110)
BetRivers -7 (-109) -315 136 (-113)
BetMGM -7.5 (-110) -350 136 (-110)

Check back here for updated odds as the game approaches.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.