Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hail to the Victors

It was with mixed emotions last night that I watched Michigan defeat Kansas to earn a trip to the South Regional final against Florida, winner over bracket–buster Florida Gulf Coast, on Sunday.

Ironically, I suppose, I was thinking earlier this week about Michigan's last trip to the Elite Eight. Michigan faced my alma mater, the University of Arkansas, in one of the regional finals in 1994. The Razorbacks won the game and went on to face first Arizona and then Duke en route to the national championship.

The Wolverines haven't been this close to the Final Four since.

But I started thinking about that Arkansas–Michigan game this week because its 19th anniversary was Monday — and it happened that an old friend of mine in Arkansas, Steve, died of cancer that morning.

Had he known about that, I suspect it would have appealed to Steve. He was a diehard Razorback fan, and the victory over the Wolverines on March 25, 1994, surely ranks as one of the great moments in Arkansas basketball history.

That game was played during the "Fab Five" era. Until now, that was the most recent highlight for Michigan basketball, and it is a virtual certainty that none of the players on Michigan's current roster was old enough to remember it.

Tomorrow, the Wolverines will have an opportunity to go farther than any Michigan team has in 20 years. In 1993, Michigan went all the way to the national championship game but lost to North Carolina when Chris Webber tried to call a timeout in the final seconds. Unfortunately, the Wolverines no longer had one, which resulted in a technical being assessed against Webber.

Ultimately, the Wolverines lost the game — and then had to vacate their entire season when it was revealed that Webber had received payments from a booster.

No doubt the Wolverines would rather re–live the 1989 NCAA Tournament, when assistant Steve Fisher took over as head coach when Bill Frieder was fired after announcing just prior to the tournament that he had agreed to coach Arizona State the following season.

In spite of the instability, the Wolverines went on to win it all in a thrilling overtime triumph over Seton Hall.

That game was played in Seattle. This year's Final Four will be played across the continent — in Atlanta.

Nevertheless, will history repeat itself?

And, if so, how? By winning it all, a la 1989? Or blowing the opportunity, as was the case in 1993?

Or will the Wolverines come up short in the regional final, as they did 19 years ago?

All or part of the answer should be revealed tomorrow.

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