The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 8 of 67

MAY 2021 THE WOLVERINE 9 BY AUSTIN FOX M ichigan head coach Juwan Howard led his Wolverines to a tremendous campaign this year, grabbing a Big Ten regular-season title before advancing all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tourna- ment. The Maize and Blue's season came to an end with a disappointing loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight, but the setback shouldn't overshadow the incredible accomplishments U-M achieved along the way. This year was just the eighth time in school history the Wolverines won the Big Ten regular-season champion- ship and advanced to at least the Elite Eight, with the previous seven oc- currences coming in 1948, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1977 and 2014. To pro- vide some context, it's worth noting the 2020-21 campaign was the 105th season of Michigan basketball, while the NCAA Tournament, on the other hand, has existed since 1939. Two of the most successful coaches in school history — Bill Frieder (1980-89) and Steve Fisher (1989-97) — never accomplished the aforemen- tioned feat. The winningest head man ever in Ann Arbor, John Beilein with 278 triumphs, only did so once (2014). Beilein, however, capped off his Michigan tenure with three straight Sweet 16 appearances from 2017-19, and Howard extended that streak to four this season (the 2020 tournament was not held). It marked the first time U-M had ever made four straight, with Gonzaga being the only other program in the nation who can match that active streak (the Bulldogs have been to six consecutive). UCLA, for example, has not made four Sweet 16 appearances in a row since 1977-80, while North Carolina hasn't done so since 1990-93. Tradi- tionally strong programs like Arizona, Georgetown, Illinois, Purdue, Syracuse and Villanova have never done so. Prior to the current stretch, Michi- gan had made three straight Sweet 16 appearances just twice before — from 1964-66 and 1992-94. A 76-58 blowout of Florida State sent the Maize and Blue to their 15th Elite Eight appearance, which tied Ohio State for the sixth most in college basketball history. The only five pro- grams that have more are Kentucky (38), North Carolina (28), UCLA (23), Duke (22) and Kansas (22). Of Michigan's 30 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, half have re- sulted in a trip to the Elite Eight. The Big Dance didn't take on its current format until 1985, though, meaning Michigan had to win fewer games in its early trips to make the regional final. The Wolverines only had to win one postseason contest in 1964 (25 teams in the NCAA Tournament that year), 1965 (23), 1966 (22) and 1974 (25) to make the Elite Eight, and none in 1948 when the Big Dance started with only eight teams. No Big Ten coach over the last de- cade has had the kind of success early in his tenure the way Howard has. The last time a conference coach won an outright Big Ten regular-season ti- tle within his first two years on the job was Thad Matta in 2006, when he was in his second season at Ohio State. The last time a league coach led his club to at least the Elite Eight within his first two years at a school, mean- while, was Bruce Weber at Illinois in 2005, when he guided the Fighting Illini to the national title game in his sophomore campaign. Michigan's men's basketball pro- gram isn't the only hardwood squad who experienced tremendous success this season, however, with the wom- en's team advancing to its first Sweet 16 in school history. Baylor, Michi- gan and Oregon were the only three programs in the nation this year that had both their men's and women's basketball programs make it to at least the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. ❑ Inside Michigan ATHLETICS Michigan's Basketball Season Was Full Of Incredible Accomplishments The Wolverines clinched the Big Ten regular-season championship and a spot in the Elite Eight in the same year for just the eighth time in the 105-year history of the program. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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