Mike Strange: Michigan trying to get back to its Fab Five days

Mike Strange
From left, Tennessee players Josh Bone, Melvin Goins, and Steven Pearl huddle before a television at Thompson Boling Arena before the start of the NCAA selection show on Sunday, March 13, 2011 during a selection viewing party.

Photo by Saul Young

From left, Tennessee players Josh Bone, Melvin Goins, and Steven Pearl huddle before a television at Thompson Boling Arena before the start of the NCAA selection show on Sunday, March 13, 2011 during a selection viewing party.

Vols receive No.9 seed; will play Michigan in NCAA tournament

The Fab Five are back in the national sports consciousness just in time for March Madness.

Thanks to ESPN’s documentary, Michigan fans — and the rest of us college hoops fans, too — can relive the Wolverines’ glory days of 20 years ago, the 1991 Fab Five recruiting class’s high-flying act on the court and their contribution to basketball culture.

But Michigan doesn’t have to be content with just living in the past.

Sunday evening in Ann Arbor, coach John Beilein walked into Crisler Arena to a standing ovation from a gathering of fans.

Then there was another cheer when the Wolverines popped up in the NCAA tournament bracket with a No. 8 seed.

The pairing of Michigan and Tennessee in an 8-9 game offers a historical juxtaposition.

From 1985-96 Michigan missed only one Big Dance. It won a national title in 1989, then the Fab Five played and lost in the title game in 1992 and 1993.

Michigan’s glory era was Tennessee’s mediocrity era. From 1984-97, the Vols showed up in the tournament only once, a quick exit in 1989.

Tennessee returned to the bracket in 1998, about the time Michigan was headed into decline.

The Vols’ celebration Sunday night was more subdued than the one in Ann Arbor. There were pats on the back for coach Bruce Pearl, but no standing ovation.

It was merely business as usual, a historic sixth consecutive bid, all on Pearl’s watch.

There have been two Sweet 16s (2007, 2008) and an Elite Eight (2010). When it comes to March Madness, this is Tennessee’s glory era.

In the current context, cast Tennessee as the tournament blue-blood and Michigan as the up-and-comer.

After the program’s 10-year absence from the bracket, Beilein is taking the Wolverines back for the second time in three years.

In his fourth season at Ann Arbor, he has coaxed 20 wins from a team that features three freshmen and two sophomores in its rotation. There are no seniors.

One of the freshmen is Tim Hardaway Jr., son of the five-time NBA All-Star of the same name.

In his 33rd year as a head coach, the 58-year-old Beilein has one of the better résumés in the profession.

He has won 617 games and is one of only seven coaches to take four different schools to the tournament. Canisius was the first. Richmond was next, upsetting third-seed South Carolina in 1998. Then came West Virginia and Michigan.

“John is a brilliant tactician,’’ Pearl said. “If there’s such a thing as a man’s man, he’s a coaches’ coach.

“He is a guy that everybody recognizes can outcoach you with his and with yours.’’

With his, Beilein took Kansas into overtime and beat Oakland 69-51 this year. That’s the Oakland that beat Pearl’s Vols in Knoxville.

Michigan stumbled to a 1-6 start in the Big Ten. Then something clicked, especially Beilein’s trust in sophomore point guard Darius Morris. The Wolverines went 8-3 the rest of the regular season.

On paper, Michigan is a challenging match-up for Tennessee. For one thing, the Wolverines don’t commit many turnovers.

For another, they run a constant-motion offense that requires defensive diligence, a trait that has been in short supply lately for the Vols.

“It won’t take him very long,’’ said Pearl, “to figure out what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are and how to go at them.’’

By definition, a pairing in an 8-9 game means neither program is especially Fab this year. But it also means it could be a Fab game.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 9

WhitePineVol77 writes:

Oakland has a good coach, too. They handled the Vols well. Hate to say it, but I smell a one and done...hope I'm wrong.

easleychuck writes:

Nothing in the last 2 1/2 months gives me any indication that UT will win this game.

The 7 - 0 start and 2 nice wins against Nova and Pitt seem like a lifetime ago.

It is sad but I am looking forward to this season being over. First time I have felt like that since Coach Pearl's arrival on campus.

I look for Michigan to win by 10 to 15 points. It would be nice to show some backbone and make a stand but after watching the lack of 2nd half defense against UF Friday night, don't think it will happen.

UT is a 19 - 14 team and 19 - 14 teams really do not fair well in any tournament much less the big one.

Orangeblood13 writes:

Pearlmustgo has no life
We could really give a sheet about your comments

hueypilot writes:

There's a show currently running on HBO about the FAB Five, in which Jimmy King talks about playing Duke and calls Laettner, Hurley and Grant Hill, each a B@#$H. Right before Duke beat them on Michigan's floor. Pure ghetto bush league BS from Juwan Howard as well There were racial overtones in a great many of their comments. If white guys had made comparable statements about blacks, they would have been skewered. Made a big deal about how trash talking was part of their "culture." I came away with zero respect for the "Fab Five" and now must chuckle everytime I think about them blowing it by letting Webber bring the ball up and him getting a T for calling a TO when they were out. Fab Five my foot. More like the Blab Five.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to hueypilot:

There's a show currently running on HBO about the FAB Five, in which Jimmy King talks about playing Duke and calls Laettner, Hurley and Grant Hill, each a B@#$H. Right before Duke beat them on Michigan's floor. Pure ghetto bush league BS from Juwan Howard as well There were racial overtones in a great many of their comments. If white guys had made comparable statements about blacks, they would have been skewered. Made a big deal about how trash talking was part of their "culture." I came away with zero respect for the "Fab Five" and now must chuckle everytime I think about them blowing it by letting Webber bring the ball up and him getting a T for calling a TO when they were out. Fab Five my foot. More like the Blab Five.

I was never for one second tempted to watch that show. I had about the same opinion you have of that bunch the first time I actually saw or heard anything about them. They embodied nearly everything I dislike about modern college basketball. As a group, they played the game almost entirely from the neck down, except for their mouths, of course. I will say that Chris Webber seems to have rehabilitated himself a bit in his present life as a TNT commentator. While not an especially profound analyst, he is at least somewhat charming and articulate and always impeccably dressed. Juwan Howard has had a surprisingly long and fairly productive pro career. The others, as far as I know, have simply disappeared. I can't say that I miss them.

johnlg00 writes:

With reference to the title of this article, John Beilein seems to be the very antithesis of the "Fab Five" school of basketball. His teams are always well-disciplined, smart, and scrappy without being personally obnoxious. Michigan may wish to regain the notoriety and (relative) success of that era, but I rather doubt Beilein at least wants to field the same kind of team.

hueypilot writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I was never for one second tempted to watch that show. I had about the same opinion you have of that bunch the first time I actually saw or heard anything about them. They embodied nearly everything I dislike about modern college basketball. As a group, they played the game almost entirely from the neck down, except for their mouths, of course. I will say that Chris Webber seems to have rehabilitated himself a bit in his present life as a TNT commentator. While not an especially profound analyst, he is at least somewhat charming and articulate and always impeccably dressed. Juwan Howard has had a surprisingly long and fairly productive pro career. The others, as far as I know, have simply disappeared. I can't say that I miss them.

Apparently Grant Hill took some offense at the remarks made the the Blab Five and had his response published in the New York Times. It is worth the read. His education at Duke and the influence of his Ivy League educated parents do him proud. http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2011...

BigOrangeJeff writes:

Trying to get back to the Fab Five days? Like the days of vacating wins and tournament appearances?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to hueypilot:

Apparently Grant Hill took some offense at the remarks made the the Blab Five and had his response published in the New York Times. It is worth the read. His education at Duke and the influence of his Ivy League educated parents do him proud. http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2011...

WOW! Thanks, Huey! What a great read! I would settle for having one Grant Hill every five years over a guaranteed annual supply of Fab Five types. BTW, it was silly of me to forget that Jalen Rose was one of the Fab Five who had a decent NBA career and seems to have become a fairly mature person in his later years. At least he had the good sense to recognize that some of his remarks about the documentary were off-base. As Hill implies, it may not be enough in the moment to erase the impact of the original comments, but at least he recognized that they could have caused perhaps unintended offense. I'm trying to be kind here.

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