There may not be a team with a wider variance of tournament successes and failures over the last 25 years than the Michigan Wolverines. If we stick to that timeline, 1989 would be the first year of this past quarter century. That year the country witnessed eventual top overall pick Glen Rice and Michigan defeat Seton Hall to win the National Championship. Then came the Fab Five in the early ninety's and two more Final Four banners but two straight losses in the title game. The Wolverines followed that up with appearances in the Big Dance in four of the next five years with limited success in comparison to the previous five.
Then came the sanctions. Chris Webber's impermissible benefits he received in his time in Ann Arbor caught up with the Wolverines in the latter part of the decade. The reduction in scholarships and postseason bans left the Wolverines at home in March for eleven straight years. It's harder for younger Wolverine fans to appreciate the stability and track record of success that John Beilien brought to Michigan in this now his seventh season. His evolution of a program can be clearly depicted in his team's tournament efforts.
Michigan first returned to the NCAA tournament after eleven years off and defeated a well-coached Clemson team before being beaten by a Blake Griffin-led Oklahoma Sooner squad. After missing the tourney in 2010 (the only other year the Wolverines have missed the tournament under Beilein aside from his first season) Michigan hammered theTennessee Volunteers in the 8-9 matchup in 2011 before squaring off with top seeded Duke in the second round. That Wolverine squad was a Darius Morris floater away from forcing overtime and possibly defeating the eventual National Champs. After earning a share of the Big Ten Title in the 2011-2012 season and being selected as a five seed, the Wolverines fell in an upset to an Ohio team that made a Sweet 16 run that season. Despite the minor setback this program showed signs of becoming a staple atop the NCAA tournament seeding.
We all remember last year. On the heels of another shared Big Ten championship, a team that had three super talented freshman and two future first round picks in National Player of the Year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., danced in a big way. Michigan dominated the first weekend before squaring off with Kansas in the Sweet 16 in a game that should go down as one of the very best to every be played on the national stage. They followed that up by putting on a clinic on Easter against Billy Donovan's Florida Gator team. It's hard to look at that program the same way this season after such a drubbing last year at the hands of the Wolverines. A tough win in national semi-final versus Syracuse landed Michigan back in the National Championship game for the first time in twenty years. Despite a twelve point lead in the first half the Wolverines fell for the third straight time in a national title game to the Louisville Cardinals.
Last year's championship loss and this year's Big Ten Championship defeat does not in any way diminish the accomplishments of this program in the last five seasons. Michigan enters this tournament as a 2 seed and is undoubtedly one of the eight-ten teams many think can win the entire thing. Regardless of how deep a run this year's version of the Wolverines makes, John Beilein has built a fantastic program that is here to stay.