College Basketball

Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines have come full circle at NCAA Tournament

March 28

There is an old saying that history repeats itself.

For the Michigan Wolverines and their head coach, Juwan Howard, that has been the case this March.

Howard was part of the Michigan basketball program as a player from 1991 to 1993, when he starred as a member of the groundbreaking "Fab Five" along with Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.

Those five started for the Wolverines as freshmen in 1991 and played in consecutive national championship games in 1992 and 1993.

Now the head coach of the Wolverines, Howard has his team following in the footsteps of that iconic group.

It has been a rapid rise as a coach for Howard. He served as an assistant coach for the Miami Heat for six seasons before taking the head-coaching job at his alma mater in the spring of 2019.

Now, in his second season, he has the Wolverines on a deep tournament run, a run they've made look easy. After cruising past Texas Southern in the first round and holding off a tough LSU team in the second, Michigan manhandled 4-seed Florida State 76-58 on Sunday to reach the Elite Eight.

But while the Wolverines have been one of the top teams in the country this season, they seem to be somehow flying under the radar, at least compared to teams with similar résumés.

For the majority of the season, much of the discussion centered on the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Baylor Bears as the top two teams in the country.

The Illinois Fighting Illini, the 1-seed in the Midwest region and the Wolverines' Big Ten counterpart, had two All-American selections in Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, compared to only one for Michigan in freshman center Hunter Dickinson.

The Wolverines were even undersold by Las Vegas bookmakers on the opening weekend of the tournament.

In a story written by FOX Sports Betting Analyst Sam Panayotovich, Golden Nugget sportsbook director Aaron Kessler acknowledged that Michigan's still high odds could come back to bite him.

"Houston (+2000 at FOX Bet to start the tournament) and Michigan (+650) aren’t great results for us," Kessler said.

Betting odds aside, Howard is building on his already illustrious career as a Wolverine — now from the sideline instead of on the court — while working to continue the tradition of basketball success in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines have advanced as far as the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament. And while this is all new for Howard as a coach, he attacks games the same way he once did as a player.

"When I go into a game as a coach, I still have nervous energy, just like how I was as a player," he said. "But as the game starts, I'm locked in. As the game gets very intense, I have to be the most calm as you can be as a leader."

This was apparent in the Wolverines' 86-78 second-round win over LSU, in which the Wolverines pulled away late in a close contest to advance.

That victory, perhaps more than any other this season, garnered Howard some respect as a coach.

And after the demolition of the Seminoles on Sunday, the respect kept flowing.

No conference received more NCAA Tournament bids than the nine garnered by the Big Ten. Perhaps that's why the Wolverines got a bit lost in the shuffle. 

Now, however, Michigan is the only Big Ten team remaining. And with Howard leading the way, the Wolverines have begun to garner the support of some of his legendary Fab Five teammates.

Michigan basketball has been a model of consistency the past decade, playing in the 2013 and 2018 national championship games.

Under Howard's steady guidance, the Wolverines now have a chance to reach the Final Four as a 1-seed for the first time since the coach's heyday as a player. They also have a chance at the program's first national championship since 1989.

If Howard can cap off the run, he and his team can write their own chapter in Michigan basketball lore.


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