When you’re talking about the University of Michigan Wolverines, it’s usually related to their football team. In 2021, however, the men’s basketball program has stolen the spotlight; they entered March Madness as a number one seed and are well on their way to the Final Four.
While anything can happen during the NCAA Tournament—that’s part of the joys of March Madness—the Wolverine have a legitimate chance of cutting down the nets at the end of the big dance. That potential outcome, however, raises one question. Has the University of Michigan ever won an NCAA basketball title?
The University of Michigan has a rich basketball history
When you hear about Michigan sports, the Wolverines football team probably springs to the forefront of your mind. The school’s basketball team, however, also has quite a history.
As recorded in the basketball program’s media guide, the Wolverines first hit the hardwood in 1909. Things weren’t too impressive in the early years—the team’s leading scorer during that first campaign, for example, only averaged 9.6 points per outing—things eventually improved.
Over the years, the Wolverines great into a legitimate basketball program. They captured their first regular-season conference title in 1921, but national success was a bit slower to arrive; Michigan first appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1948 but didn’t start regularly reaching the postseason until the 1970s.
While the Fab Five-era is probably still the height of Michigan’s basketball powers, the program has built up a respectable resume over the years. The Wolverines have had 35 All-Americans don the maize and blue; they’ve also won two NIT titles, 15 Big Ten championships, and two Big Ten Tournaments, barring the victories that were vacated after an NCAA scandal.
Has Michigan ever won a basketball National Championship?
If you’re a Michigan basketball fan, talk of NCAA Championship games probably calls to mind unpleasant memories of Chris Webber calling for a nonexistent time out. The Wolverines, however, did manage to win one title.
Despite reaching the championship game on six occasions—again, some of those wins have technically been vacated—the University of Michigan has only cut down the nets as NCAA champions on time. That lone success came in 1989, in remarkable circumstances.
Ahead of that year’s NCAA Tournament, Michigan head coach Bill Frieder accepted the vacant Arizona State coaching; while he planned on finishing out the year, Bo Schembechler wasn’t willing to wait around. He fired Frieder and handed the reigns to assistant Steve Fisher.
Despite the sudden coaching change, the Wolverines didn’t miss a beat. Behind the outstanding play of Glen Rice, the three-seed advanced to the Final Four; there, they upset Illinois and secured the title with a one-point, overtime win against Seton Hall.
Juwan Howard might be the key to the Wolverines’ second NCAA Championship
Coming down the stretch of the 2020-21 NCAA season, the Michigan Wolverines stumbled and lost three games in less than two weeks. Despite that stretch, though, the team still entered March Madness as a number one seed.
While the Wolverines have plenty of talent on the roster, the star of this season has been head coach Juwan Howard. In his second season on the bench, the former Michigan man has shown some serious skills; as explained by Franz Wagner and spelled out by SI.com’s Brandon Brown, the coach has done a masterful job of preparing his team for each opponent. During March Madness, where a single slip-up can send you home, those sort of game-by-game can be the key to success.
Although the road to the National Championship won’t be easy—if they can get past UCLA, the Wolverines will presumably face Gonzaga, then either Baylor or Houston in the final—Michigan certainly has a shot at claiming the National title. Fittingly, they’re doing it with “a Michigan man” on the bench, exactly as Bo Schembechler would have wanted.