The National Championship is less than three months away, and Michigan and Duke are on a collision course. Unlike the Linkin Park/Jay-Z Collision Course, this collision course provides an opportunity to alleviate the pain from the early 90s and reignite a dormant rivalry.
In the 1991-92 season, Michigan’s Fab Five took college basketball by storm, disrupting the status quo and forever changing the antiquated aesthetics of the college game. Trash talk, baggy shorts, and a “fuck you” attitude upset the establishment socially and athletically.
The Wolverines went on an unprecedented, freshman-led run reaching the 1992 National Championship before ultimately falling short to college basketball’s highest guard, the Duke Blue Devils. Twenty-seven years later, we are inversely reliving this encounter.
Duke’s contemporary quartet of starting freshman are comprised of: RJ Barrett (2018 No. 1 overall, No. 1 shooting guard), Cam Reddish (2018 No. 2 overall, No. 1 small forward), internet sensation Zion Williamson (2018 No. 5 overall, No. 1 power forward), and Trey Jones (2018 No. 15 overall, No. 1 point guard).
Arguably the most talented freshman class in college basketball history, Duke has destroyed all but one of its opponents including blowout wins over ranked blue bloods Indiana and Kentucky. Even in their lone loss, much like the Fab Five, the Duke quadrumvirate is electrifying in producing highlight reels plays offensively and defensively.
Williamson is your favorite player’s favorite player and has seemingly been in our lives since House of Highlights took off on Instagram. With dunks reminiscent of Darryl Dawkins, a physically versatile game similar to Charles Barkley, and an efficiency seldom seen at this level, Zion is the standout of a collection of standouts.
Much like Chris Webber on the Fab Five, Duke will ride the powerful Zion deep into March. But before their coronation, college basketball’s current residential power has something to say.
Michigan, much like Duke in the early 90s, are burgeoning elitists with a super villain at its forefront. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis isn’t the acclaimed veteran (and most punchable face winner) that Christian Laettner was, but he is a snake tattoo-sporting, Canadian killer on the basketball court. (I love him.)
Michigan’s supporting cast is (sort of) comparable to the historical Blue Devils as well. Take Bobby Hurley for example: subtract the best player yelling at him like a petulant child during games, make him cooler, likable, even cooler, infinitely swaggier, cooler once more, four inches taller, a less productive passer, better shooter, and you have Jordan Poole.
Now take Grant Hill. Okay, I cannot soberly compare Charles Matthews to Grant Hill, but Matthews is a similarly built, multi-tool, inside out player, so you can see where comparisons can be drawn. Matthews is a grinder that can provide a lift when the team needs it most. In this way, he reminds me of Detroit Piston legend, Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, whom would always heat up at the right time.
Michigan and Duke are back to where their idiosyncratic rivalry began, they’ve merely exchanged chess pieces and reestablished the battle lines. But the question persists from 1992: will the freshman topple the established national title contenders?
Michigan has an opportunity to exorcise its 27-year-old demons and the youthful Blue Devils in the same season.
Time is a flat circle.