Michigan's Long Quest Back to the Final Four

USA TODAY Sports

Bo Schembechler would've turned 84 on Monday. The Michigan basketball program he helped push into a national championship 24 years ago has reached the final four again at last, after 20 years of absence. The remarkable thing isn't that they made it, it's that they got there with a vengeance. Michigan blitzed South Dakota State and VCU, and frightened Kansas into such a state of disarray that one wonders if Charlie Weis was in Bill Self's or Elijah Johnson's ear the final moments of regulation and overtime. Completely unfazed by beating Kansas, they then made Florida start looking ahead to football season...in the first five minutes of that game.

Compared to where this basketball program was in 1993, this final four berth is all the more satisfying, not because this team isn't loaded with talent, but because of where this basketball program wasn't in the time between the two final four appearances.

For Michigan, the self-inflicted basketball shock therapy to wipe away an era that made Michigan basketball the envy of the college basketball world was a death sentence for further accomplishment. Never again would the stars of Detroit and beyond want to play in a place that disavowed all existence of what put it on the map. The lone memory allowed to endure in the record books from 1993 is a phantom timeout and a dejected Chris Webber walking down the tunnel of the Superdome in New Orleans, trying his best to avoid the cameras. The final images we got of any members of the Fab Five were early tournament exits. Jalen Rose's final year closed with a bad loss to Arkansas in the regional final. Ray Jackson and Jimmy King were subjected to a loss in the first round to Western Kentucky. The Fab Five's exit was a whimper, and the damage had been done.

Everything spiraled down into the shadows, where Michigan wallowed with no noteworthy basketball achievements. They [ Steve Fisher, Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker] got recruits from time to time, sure, and I still to this day have never seen a larger basketball player in person than Robert "Tractor" Traylor, may he rest in peace. But Michigan was synonymous with middle-of-the-road.

And then John Beilein began to build a program fit for Michigan again. They got a taste of the tournament, and in their first trip in 11 years nearly got to the Sweet Sixteen but I watched Blake Griffin ensure that was not to be. And no Michigan resurgence story would be complete without a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Duke two years later. But to get to the final four how they did -- especially how much better they were than a Florida team ranked in the top five much of the year, is herculean.

Florida appeared lost, after getting hit in the mouth by the force of 10,000 suns strapped to 10,000 nuclear-powered locomotives. Matt Shepard, the Michigan play-by-play announcer, said that Florida's players couldn't even pronounce Nik Stauskas's name correctly, let alone remember he existed as he bombed three-pointers from the corner. . Michigan didn't play fast, they played mach seven. The secret to beating a stifling zone defense was to just outrun it every possession and use the wealth of scoring talent on the floor to put them away, leaving them whimpering in the corner praying for Tim Tebow to somehow save them. Spike Albrecht made Florida look slow and undersized, and Spike Albrecht is slow and undersized when compared to the rest of Michigan's starting roster.

Trey Burke and his Mighty Men of Michigan have taken the narrative of the basketball program from where it wasn't to holy lord they can win this thing. I was three years old when the 1989 team came out of a bad loss in their final game of the regular season and obliterated the field en route to that final four. Sure, we didn't expect this deep of a run after the soul-crushing defeat to Indiana and the hair-pulling, slog of a loss to Wisconsin. Now, Syracuse gets a Michigan team that has remembered how good they are. It'll be crazy.

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