Most of us know about the struggles the Michigan Wolverines have faced in the Final Four, perhaps most notably in National Championships. Heading into their match-up with Loyola Chicago in San Antonio, the Wolverines sport a record of 7-6 in Final Four games.
However, of those six losses, five of them came in the National Championships. So to say that Michigan has a checkered Final Four past is slightly misleading. In reality, the Wolverines have a checkered National Final past. Nevertheless, those are considered Final Four games, so we are left saying they have a bumpy history. It is worth noting that Michigan is 6-1 National Semifinal games, so take that for what it is worth.
We can begin all the way back in 1964 when Michigan made it into its first Final Four. Oddly enough, that was the season after Loyola Chicago won the National Championship. That is neither here nor there, though. The Wolverines were led by Cazzie Russell and Bill Buntin, who both averaged over 23 points per game that season.
In that game, Michigan matched up with Duke in their first National Semifinal appearance. The Blue Devils were led by Jay Buckley and Jeff Mullins in the box score. Buckley scored 25 points and snared 14 rebounds, Mullins chipped in 21 points and eight rebounds. Despite Cazzie Russell dropping in 31 points, the Wolverines fell 91-80. They would go on to defeat Kansas State in the National Third Place game though.
Again led by Russell and Buntin, the Wolverines were back in the Final Four the following season. This time, they coasted in the National Semifinal, beating Princeton 93-76 in that game. Russell and Buntin combined to score 50 points.
It is also worth noting that Princeton was led by NCAA legend and future NBA great Bill Bradley. Now playing in their first National Final, Michigan drew the prestigious UCLA Bruins. At that time, the Bruins were led by future Laker great Gail Goodrich. He dropped in 42 points on 55 percent shooting to lead the UCLA past Michigan. The final score in that game was 91-80.
It was not until 1975-’76 that Michigan would see the Final Four again. That Wolverines team featured five players scoring in double figures, led by Rickey Green and Phil Hubbard. Again they blew by their National Semifinal opponent, future Big Ten foe Rutgers. Winning 86-70, John Robinson, the team’s third-leading scorer, piled up 20 points and 16 rebounds in the victory.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they ran into arguably the best college basketball team ever in the National Final. The Indiana Hoosiers, led by Bob Knight, easily defeated Michigan 86-68 in that game. In the process, the Hoosiers finished their season a perfect 32-0.
Michigan finally clinched a National Championship in 1989 under then interim coach Steve Fisher. Future NBA star Glen Rice was the catalyst for the Wolverines all season, averaging 25 points per game. In their National Semifinal game against Illinois, Rice dropped in 28 points en route to a two-point win over the Illini. The Seton Hall Pirates stood in the way of Michigan’s first National Championship in school history. Glen Rice scored a game-high 31 points and Rumeal Robinson added 21 as Michigan captured the title with an 80-79 overtime win.
Then, we get to the era we all know, the Fab Five era. While this is probably one of the most well-documented times in college hoops, it is worth re-stating that these fabulous Michigan players never won a National Championship.
Though they defeated Cincinnati in their National Semifinal in 1992, they met up with Duke in the National Championship. The Blue Devils absolutely dominated the young Wolverines from the opening tip. Led by Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley (you know, the guys you’re told to hate), Duke won by a score of 71-51. Chris Webber scored 14 points for Michigan in the loss.
The following season saw the Fab Five make it back to the Final Four. Just like the season before, they were able to win their National Semifinal game, this time against Kentucky. Chris Webber was dominant, scoring 27 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard scored 18 and 17 points respectively.
Now, comes the moment that every Michigan fan has to hear about. The 1993 National Championship game featured a moment never before seen in basketball. I don’t really need to describe it, right? Maybe the video will suffice (from the Fab Five ESPN documentary):
The Wolverines would lose that game 77-71 to North Carolina. Webber scored 23 points and had 11 rebounds while Jimmy King scored 15 points for Michigan.
Michigan made a multitude of NCAA Tournament appearances after that but never made it back to the Final Four until 2013. Though the Wolverines were able to get by Syracuse in their National Semifinal, they were again unable to win the National Championship.
Facing off against a Louisville team that featured a complete roster of Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, the Wolverines seemed evenly matched. You will recall that this was a Wolverines squad with Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary. Though both teams were completely stacked, the Cardinals were able to come out on top 82-76. The Wolverines have not made it back to the Final Four since then.
Obviously, none of this has to do with this year’s Michigan team. Their Final Four run may turn out completely different from previous teams. However, it is hard to overlook how much Michigan has struggled in National Championship games. History may not be on their side, but in the minds of the current Wolverines, I do not think that matters.