A New Fab Five?

It is often suggested the NCAA Tournament selection committee sets up first- and second-round matchups playing to potential storylines and TV ratings. They got one Sunday in the Midwest Region final between Kentucky and Michigan.

It is often suggested the NCAA Tournament selection committee sets up first- and second-round matchups playing to potential storylines and TV ratings.

Whether that's true or not is subject to debate, but it's much more difficult to set up a matchup like we'll see on Sunday in the Midwest Region final.

After signing what many analysts said might be the best recruiting class in college basketball history, Kentucky's youth-dominated team has one final obstacle in quest of a trip to the Final Four: Michigan.

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The Wildcats, who have started five freshman players for most of the season and in all three NCAA tourney wins over Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville, will now face the program that was first to embrace an all-freshman lineup en route to the Final Four 22 years ago when the Wolverines' "Fab Five" bucked conventional wisdom and polarized the nation with their flashy play.

Adding intrigue to the mix, one of those UK freshmen, swingman James Young, is a native of Michigan.

"They really changed the game in what they did," Young said, but he quickly added the Fab Five is the furthest thing from the Wildcats' mind right now.

"We don't really pay attention to it, really," he said. "We just try to take it game by game, and if it happens, it happens, but we are just trying to make history."

Michigan's 1991-92 team was led by five players who were all ranked among the national Top 100 in the 1991 recruiting class. Chris Webber was No. 1, Juwan Howard No. 3, Jalen Rose No. 6, Jimmy King No. 9 and Ray Jackson No. 84. The first four became the first future teammates to play together in the McDonald's All-American Game and stood as a record until – yes, Kentucky – broke it with six in 2013 who are part of the current Wildcat roster.

Kentucky's John Calipari signed the top player at four out of five positions in the 2013 class: point guard Andrew Harrison, shooting guard Aaron Harrison, power forward Julius Randle and center Dakari Johnson. The Cats added two more five-star players in small forward James Young (No. 11 overall) and center Marcus Lee (No. 24), giving them six players in the Top 24 and making a strong case for the new best recruiting class in history.

Like Kentucky (27-10) this season, Michigan didn't set the college basketball world on fire – in terms of actual record – in 1992. The Wolverines went 24-8 and finished tied for third in the Big Ten with an 11-7 mark. They were ranked No. 15 in the final AP Top 25 poll and were seeded sixth going into the NCAA Tournament, not really the resume of a title contender.

Two weeks later, however, Michigan was in the Final Four. The baggy-shorted Wolverines opened the tourney with romps over Temple and East Tennessee State. Ironically, their last two regional wins over Oklahoma State and Ohio State came in Kentucky's Rupp Arena.

After beating Cincinnati in the national semifinals, Michigan's season ended with a 71-51 loss to Duke in the championship game, but their mere presence on the final Monday of the season left a lasting legacy. They would return to the Final Four the following season.

A young team with abundant talent overcame growing pains to make a memorable run to the Final Four. Sound like a familiar storyline?

"That really didn't pop into my mind until someone asked it a minute ago," said Randle, who has 23 double-doubles this season and could be compared favorably to Michigan's Webber in 1992. "It is a pretty cool thing, but I mean I'm worried about playing Michigan.

"We are trying to do something special. We are trying. Our goals have not changed from the beginning of the season, but we can't worry about comparing ourselves to the Fab Five or anything like that. We are focused on us, and our focus is on Michigan and not comparing ourselves to history. We are trying to make our own history."


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