The arrival of a sensational recruiting class has raised expectations through the roof at Michigan, but 2012-13 will hardly be the first time the Wolverines have pinned their hopes on freshman stars.
The hype surrounding Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III raises the inevitable response: “They’re good, but they’re not the Fab Five.”
The most revered freshman class in college history has had its legacy tarnished by scandal in the years since the high-powered quintet finished their college careers. For sheer talent, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better lineup in Michigan’s storied history than Chris Webber and his back-to-back national runners-up.
Read on for a position-by-position look at Michigan’s projected 2012-13 starters, and how they compare with the legendary freshmen of two decades ago.
As much as Jalen Rose always saw himself as a full-on point guard, he was really a devastating scorer who happened to be handling the ball.
He topped out at four assists per game as a Wolverine, which wasn't embarrassing, but was hardly in the same league as his career-high 19.9 points per night as a junior.
Trey Burke has plenty of scoring chops of his own, having led last year’s Michigan squad with 14.8 points per game, but he’s shown much more of a distributor’s mentality than Rose did.
Burke dished out 4.6 assists per contest as a freshman with far fewer weapons than Rose had around him.
Big for a college shooting guard at 6’5”, Jimmy King was an aggressive defender who averaged as many as 1.6 steals per game.
A solid penetrator who lacked a great three-point shot, King never topped 14.7 points per game as a collegian.
Like King, Tim Hardaway Jr. has taken a backseat to a high-scoring point guard, but Hardaway still posted a respectable 14.6 points per game last season.
He’s a physical defender at 6’6”, but his contributions on that end of the floor rarely make it into the box score.
Advantage: Fab Five
The only member of the Fab Five who never played in the NBA, Ray Jackson was a versatile 6’6” small forward who played tough defense but rarely stood out among the outsized personalities around him.
He didn’t get many chances to shoot until his more heralded classmates were gone—he averaged 15.5 points per game as a senior—but he was a fine rebounder who averaged as many as 6.3 boards per night in Ann Arbor.
Glenn Robinson III arrives at Michigan looking like a near-polar opposite to Jackson, with defense the biggest question mark on his resume.
Scoring, in contrast, will be Robinson’s stock-in-trade. In John Beilein’s offense, he’ll get bushels of opportunities to show off his skills at knocking down three-pointers or breaking down defenders off the dribble.
Although he was never the most physical of power forwards, Juwan Howard’s agility helped him grab as many as 8.9 rebounds per game at Michigan.
His defining attribute, though, was a lethal shooting touch—from the mid-range or the post—and he averaged up to 20.8 points per night as a Wolverine.
Jordan Morgan has never been accused of a lack of physicality, but the 6’8”, 250-pound junior doesn’t have much else in his favor.
He posted a career-high 5.6 boards per contest last season, but he hasn’t topped 9.2 points per night in his two seasons in Ann Arbor.
Advantage: Fab Five
If Chris Webber had stayed his full four seasons at Michigan, he’d have rewritten the school's record books.
One of the best passing big men in basketball history, Webber also averaged 17.4 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in his two years as a Wolverine.
Mitch McGary isn’t going to meet that exalted standard, but he’s set for a fine freshman season of his own.
McGary is a high-motor big man with great rebounding instincts and an ability to finish through contact that should make him a major scoring weapon in the physical Big Ten.
Advantage: Fab Five
It’s not as much of a runaway as you might expect, with Jimmy King barely edging out Tim Hardaway Jr., but the Fab Five’s enormous advantage in the low post tells the tale.
Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary will be a formidable college frontcourt, but Juwan Howard and Chris Webber could have outplayed several NBA frontcourts during their time as Wolverines.
Even if next year’s Michigan squad doesn’t make the Final Four immediately, they’ll have a chance to improve in the future, in contrast to the Fab Five's one-way talent exodus to the NBA.
John Beilein is building another terrific recruiting class to follow this year’s—ESPNU ranks it as the nation’s fourth-best at the moment—meaning that the 2012 freshmen may well achieve down the road what the Fab Five never could.
A national championship.