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March Memories 7: The Fab Five

1992

Duke 104, Kentucky 103.

Everything you've heard about the game is true. It is indisputably one of the best, if not the best, game in CBB history.

Kentucky played its guts out. Jamal Mashburn was fantastic. Christian Laettner probably should have been tossed. Laettner hit an amazing shot to win it. Laettner was "perfect" on the day (10-10 FG, 10-10 FT), but what you probably don't realize is that EVERYBODY shot well. 14 players made a field goal; all but one shot 50% or better from the floor. Makes for an insane boxscore.

That said, you've all seen the shot before, so, for national flavor, let's look at the second-most famous buzzer beater in the tournament, and a truly fantastic call by the late great Al McGuire:

Speaking of truly fantastic, the Big Ten lit it up. The league posted a 14-5 record and every loss was to a team that made the Final Four (three were to Duke). Three teams made the Elite Eight. The two that didn't, Michigan State and Iowa, each won their opener before falling to Cincinnati and Duke, respectively.

For the second consecutive year, Indiana and Ohio State each finished in the top 5. OSU won the Big Ten outright at 15-3. Indiana, who had a one game lead with three to play--and who had swept OSU--lost two of the final three, and lost any chance at a share of the crown by losing @Purdue on the final day of the season.

Unlike the previous year, however, neither soiled themselves in the NCAA tournament. Indiana, a 2-seed, ran all the way to the Final Four, punctuating things with 106-79 win over top-seed UCLA. Once there, Indiana gave Duke all they could handle, holding Laettner to single figures in scoring. However, Bobby Hurley had 26 (including 6-9 from 3) and Duke got to the line 42 times (shocking, I know), and the Blue Devils weathered a late 3 pt barrage to win 81-78.

Ohio State grabbed the 1-seed, and also outperformed the previous year's Sweet 16 face plant by beating North Carolina in the Sweet 16, thus making their deepest tournament run since the early 70's, when the legendary Fred Taylor was still at the helm. Great season, right? Yet it left a bitter taste. Why?

Michigan.

The Fab Five--Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson--spoiled OSU's dream season by knocking off a Buckeye squad that boasted two regular season wins--both by double-digits--over the Wolverines. Michigan, a 6-seed, caught a break by getting 14-seed East Tennessee State (who knocked off Arizona) in second round, but to even get the chance to ruin OSU's dreams, they had to get by a very tough Oklahoma State (2-seed) in the Sweet 16. The Wolverines won that game 75-72 despite Webber fouling out having only played 18 minutes and scored 4 points. They were victorious because they forced Okie State star Byron Houston into a 2-14 performance (with 8 turnovers to boot) and because Jalen Rose put up 25 pts and 11 rebounds.

In the regional final, Michigan kept up with Ohio State, tying the game in the final minute on a Webber putback and, frankly, just outplayed the Buckeyes in the OT, winning 75-71. It was a hard fought game throughout, with Webber's 23 pt, 11 rebound, 5 block performance leading the way.

Michigan's run extended with a win over Cincinnati in the Final Four, but they couldn't keep up with Duke in the title game. Michigan led at the break 31-30, but Duke held the Wolverines to 20 second half points and won going away 71-51.

1993

Big things were expected out of the Big Ten in 1993. Michigan started the season #1 and Indiana ended the regular season #1. Each grabbed a 1-seed in the tournament. And yet, the season ended up being a bit disappointing overall, overshadowed by two "What if?" questions, one of which was grounded in injury, the other in tragedy.

[What if #1] Iowa was sitting at 12-3 and #11 in the nation in mid-January when Chris Street, a Jr. PF who was averaging 14.5 ppg and 9.5 rpg died in a car accident. Iowa managed to finish tied for 3rd in the Big Ten at 11-7, and took down Michigan in a very emotional first home game following Street's death, but their season ended in a close 4 vs. 5 second round game vs. Wake Forest. Hard to say what Iowa's ceiling was with Street. Given that the Final Four was three 1-seeds and a 2, the Final Four may have been out of reach. But this was Iowa's best team in the 1990's, and the tragedy is still felt today.

Also going out in the second round was Illinois. The 6-seed Illini were routed by Vanderbilt. Purdue Boilermakers lost to Rhode Island Rams in a first round 8/9 matchup. [And Minnesota, who was in the top 20 of some power rankings, didn't get a bid and went on to win the NIT.] Big Ten hopes thus rested with Michigan and Indiana.

These were both outstanding teams. Indiana won the Big Ten at 17-1 and Michigan was second at 15-3. Indiana swept the season series, but each win was by a single point. The first game, @Michigan, ended with Webber's putback attempt being blocked as time expired. The rematch saw Indiana go on a 13-0 run to take an 11 point lead with a minute to go, but Michigan hit some threes and Indiana missed some FTs and it tightened up in a hurry (that said, Michigan hit a three at the buzzer, so Indiana was never in danger of losing the lead on any possession).

[What if #2] Unfortunately, leading rebounder (and the guy who blocked Chris Webber in Crisler) Alan Henderson suffered a serious knee injury shortly thereafter. A now undersized Indiana managed to get to the Elite Eight, but fell to hot-shooting Kansas there (60% FG that game).

Michigan was rather unimpressive in winning their regional, but were the beneficiary of multiple upsets such that their path led them past teams seeded 16, 9, 12, and 7, with only the opening round win being by double digits. The second round game vs. UCLA was a taut classic, with Michigan winning 86-84 in OT on a last-second Webber putback, capping a 27 pt, 14 reb outing.

Michigan's national semifinal game was against a Kentucky team that absolutely obliterated everything in their path in winning their regional.

The Wildcats' four wins were by a collective 124 points. Their closest game was 21, and they beat FSU in the Elite 8 by 25. It was a titanic matchup and it lived up to the hype. Led by a 27 and 13 night from Webber, Michigan won 81-78 in OT. The last 20 seconds of regulation saw Kentucky get away with a travel and Jalen Rose probably commit a charge that wasn't called. Kentucky took a four point lead in OT, but Jamal Mashburn fouled out, and Michigan finished on a 9-2 run.

We all know what happened next. UNC avenged a regular season loss behind the hot shooting of Donald Williams. Down 2, Chris Webber called a timeout Michigan didn't have, UNC converted the FTs and won Dean Smith's second national title.