Photo from University of Michigan
When one Big Ten team celebrates an unprecedented achievement, it's often at the expense of another. Such was the case when Indiana topped Michigan to finish the perfect 1975-76 season. Michigan had to wait until 1988-89 to hoist a trophy, and it also dispatched a conference rival on the final weekend.
Bill Frieder's team went 24-7, finishing ninth in the country in scoring at nearly 91 points per game. All-American forward Glen Rice set school single-season and career-scoring records that still stand, although his Big Ten career-scoring record was later eclipsed.
Six Wolverines would go on to NBA careers—that is, if you count Demetrius Calip's seven pro games as a "career."
Unfortunately for Frieder, the squad that crushed Virginia by 37 points to reach the Final Four and survived a pair of nail-biting finishes in Seattle was no longer his team. Frieder was relieved of his post after agreeing to leave for Arizona State in the offseason, and the elevation of assistant coach Steve Fisher became the prevailing storyline of the tournament.
The semifinal game between Michigan and Illinois has become one of the most famous battles in Big Ten history. Rice's hot hand was almost insufficient to hold off the famous "Flyin' Illini," one of Lou Henson's greatest teams led by Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson, Lowell Hamilton and Kendall Gill.
Battle actually outscored Rice 29-28, with the last two coming on a runner with 33 seconds left. It was a putback from Sean Higgins that sealed Michigan's two-point win.
Another top scorer outdid Rice in the final when Seton Hall's John Morton hung 35 on the Wolverines, compared to Rice's 31. Although Rice's 184 points in the tournament still stand as a single-season record, this was another finish in which another Wolverine was the star.
Rumeal Robinson, a 65 percent foul shooter, drilled 9-of-10 in the final including a one-and-one with three seconds left to seal the title.
While the 1988-89 team didn't win a Big Ten title like the more heralded Fab Five in the early '90s, Rice and Co. finished the job when it counted. As a bonus, the 1989 title is still recognized by the NCAA and the school.
That's always a good thing.