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Could the 1992 Wolverines be...
An unstoppable team?
by Ken Sugiura
C onventional wisdom I
says there is only one
team that is capable of
beating Michigan this year.
You've probably seen it play. Its
players wear baggy shorts, just1
lke Michigan. They're plenty
talented and have all kinds of
depth, just like Michigan. They
were even in the Final Four, as
the Wolverines were.
It's not Cincinnati. It's not
Duke. And it's not Indiana.
"Michigan, the only way they
can lose," Juwan Howard says,
"is if they lose to themselves."
There is no reason to doubt
him. A season after reaching the
national championship game,
the Wolverines return their five
starters and top nine scorers.
Coach Steve Fisher's only
significant loss is last year's
captain, Freddie Hunter. And in
the 227 days since Duke ended
the Wolverines' incredible run to
the NCAA final, much has
happened to Michigan which
does nothing but defend
Preseason all-America Chris
Webber has improved on his Big
Ten Freshman-of-the-Year form.
Webber, along with seven other
collegiate stars, spent a week
this summer serving as a
practice squad for the Dream
Team. Fellow sophomore and
preseason all-Big Ten guard
Jalen Rose, after a summer of
extensive weight training, has
gained great upper body
Senior center Eric Riley has
also added 20 pounds of muscle
to his 7-foot frame. Fisher says
sophomore Jimmy King is
improved, having played exten-
sively over the summer. Forward
James Voskuil toured Europe
twice this summer - with
Michigan and with a Big Ten all-
star squad - and has returned
ready to challenge incumbent
Ray Jackson for the starting
small forward spot.
"There's total improvement
all around," assistant Perry
Watson says. "From the physical
aspect to the skills to the mental
aspect. It's just total improve-
It is almost scary to think
what this team could accomplish
before the season is through.
Ending Duke's 72-game non-
conference home game win
streak. A Big Ten title. An
"If our team is on the same
page, players one through 14,
we'll win every game," Rose
It is a statement rife with
audacity. But with Michigan's
roster, is there reason for Rose to
feel any other way? Plenty has
been written about the Fab Five
-Webber, Rose, Howard, King
and Jackson. The quintet turned
the basketball world on its ear
when they made the national
championship contest as fresh-
men. There is more. Michigan's
first four players off the bench -
Riley, Voskuil, Rob Pelinka, and
Michael Talley - could probably
crack many-Big Ten starting
Big Ten season. Fisher and his
team list a title as a high
priority this season, but it will
take some doing.
"We never played quite as
consistent as a coach would like
(last year)," Fisher says. "Now
whether that was because they
were young and learning, or
whether that's the nature of the
banner. We'd be the first since
'86. And we'd like to get back to
the Final Four, too" Fisher says.
It will likely require a Big
Ten record of 15-3 or 14-4 in
order to conquer the conference.
Achieving such heights will
require the Wolverines to sweep
through the lower division clubs.
Michigan broke even last
time, it would be premature to
say anything more than the
Maize and Blue have as good a
shot at reaching their goal of a
national title as anyone else.
The specialty of those precocious
Wolverines is doing things
prematurely, however, and they
have already given voice to their
"Our goal is to not lose any
games and win any champion-
ship that comes through our
door," Howard says.
Admittedly, there are any
number of reasons to believe
that Monday, April 5, will find
the Wolverines in New Orleans,
celebrating their second title in
five years. There are, however,
at least a handful of reasons
why it won't happen. Basketball
history can lend a few. It is
littered with teams that never
met their potential, teams that
In 1983, it was a North
Carolina team with Michael
Jordan, Sam Perkins and Kenny
Smith that was supposed to
achieve what Michigan is
expected to. Fisher likes to cite
last year's failed mission, that of
Kansas. The top-seeded
Jayhawks, "a Final Four team if
there ever was one," as Fisher
says, lost a second-round tourna-
ment game to UTEP, relegating
themselves to the ignominious
heap of "coulda-beens."
There is another example,
thin one chronicled in the book
Forever's Team by John
Feinstein. After finishing last in
the ACC in 1977, the Duke Blue
Devils, infused with a remark-
able trio of freshmen, made an
improbable run to the 1978
NCAA final. In so doing, the
underdog Blue Devils captured
the nation's heart. They did so
because they were a team that
was having the time of its life
beating all the teams it wasn't
supposed to. But that was only
the half of it. What made Duke
truly special was that it had no
concept of the immensity of what
it was accomplishing.
Duke lost to that year's "team
of destiny," Kentucky, but
expectations were high for the
following season. The starting
five, led by sophomore forward
Gene Banks, returned. What's
more, Duke's top 10 scorers also
returned. Coach Bill Foster's
only loss was Bruce Bell, a
former walk-on who was the
team's most popular player.
The similarities are striking.
Whether the conclusion will hold
form remains to be seen. Every-
tournament. It would be disap-
pointing if a successful regular
season for the Wolverines was
forgotten simply due to one poor
game in the tournament.
"I'd give anything if we could
have won that Duke game,"
Fisher said. "Even if it meant
(Chris) Webber and (Jalen) Rose
and (Juwan) Howard and
(Jimmy) King and (Ray) Jackson
all going pro after their first
Maybe Fisher is foreshadow-
ing the inevitable. Following this
season the likelihood that at
least one if not two or three of
the "Fab Five" will enterthe
NBA draft is high. Thus, this
year may be the last try for the
quintet to make a collective run
at the crown. So much for their
goal of four titles. Just as those
seconds seemed to tick away in
April, so too are their chances
for basketball immortality.
Four championships, three,
two, one, zero.
So, when you watch the
in the co
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The 1992 Wolverines return all five starters from a team which fell a game short of a National Championship a year
ago. With the Fab Five having a year's experience, returning to the Final Four appears to be an achievable goal.
"I think some points are
stronger than others," Jackson
offers, "but we don't really have
There's no question Fisher
has the horses. The only matter
up for discussion is what kind of
jockey he will make. His skills
game, I don't know."
Capturing the Big Ten will
require consistency, a quality
that has not been the calling
card of the Michigan basketball
program. Since 1986 - the last
time the Wolverines won the Big
Ten - Michigan's longest Big
Ten winning streak is five
games, which it has done twice.
In the same time span, Bob
'Michigan, the only way they can lose, is if
they lose to themselves.'
- Juwan Howard
season against the upper half of
the Big Ter at 4-4, but could
only manage a 7-3 standard
against the second five. Confer-
ence champ Ohio State, mean-
while, was but one victory better
than Michigan vs. the top half at
5-3, but roared through the
bottom five at 10-0.
While the conference is quite
possibly the strongest it has ever
been and the Wolverines have
the disadvantage of playing
conference dregs Northwestern
and Penn State but once each,
the Wolverines are not fazed.
"I'm ready to do whatever it
takes," Pelinka says. "Right now,
my personal goal isn't to average
X' amount of points or play X'
amount of minutes; it's to help
the team win the Big Ten."
Following the regular
season, of course, the NCAA
Tournament and March Mad-
ness roll around.At this point in
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will probably be most tested in
that most trying of races, the
one for the Big Ten crown. In his
short time as Michigan's head
coach, the conference champion-
ship is one of the few things
Fisher has not achieved.
His ability to recruit and to
coach in the NCAA tournament
are unquestioned. The knock on
Fisher, or more appropriately on
Michigan, is that it hasn't
produced in the long haul of the
Knight's Hoosiers have won at
least five straight nine times -
and have two Big Ten titles to
show for it.
To be fair, the Fab Five is
responsible only for last season,
when Michigan finished third
and could not really be expected
to challenge for the title. This
year, the expectations are vastly
different, but the mission is
exactly the same.
"We'd like to hang a B'ig Ten
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