Jalen Rose had the same reaction to Jordan Poole’s game-winning 3-point shot against Houston last Saturday as any Michigan fan. Maybe stronger.
“That’s been about as enthusiastic as I’ve been about an individual play in about a decade,” Rose told Land of 10 about the second-round West Regional game in Wichita, Kan. “I just love this team and I think it has something special, that’s why on my bracket I have the Wolverines beating the Blue Devils to win the NCAA Tournament.”
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That would be the Duke Blue Devils, a program that beat Rose and his Fab Five teammates in the 1992 national title game when the group — Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson — were freshmen. The Wolverines again reached the championship game in 1993 before falling to North Carolina 77-71 in the game most remembered for Webber calling a timeout his team didn’t have with 11 seconds left.
That was 25 years ago.
This Michigan team is preparing to face Texas A&M on Thursday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Wolverines (30-7) have won 11 games in a row and are the No. 3 seed in West, the highest remaining seed on the left side of the bracket. Seeding has proven to mean little in this tournament. No. 7 Texas A&M (22-12) is coming off an 86-65 victory against No. 2 North Carolina. The Aggies are playing like the team that many expected to contend for the SEC title this season rather than the team that lost its first five conference games.
Michigan has beaten No. 14 Montana and then pulled off the 64-63 escape job against Houston to reach the Sweet 16 for the second straight season and for the fourth time in the last six seasons under coach John Beilein.
The 1993 team also nearly got knocked out in the second round. Michigan was a No. 1 seed but trailed No. 9 UCLA by 19 points in the first half before rallying and beating the Bruins 86-84 on an offensive rebound and layup by King with 1.5 seconds left in overtime. King’s game-winning bucket came off a missed shot by Rose. It was a controversial ending but one that turned out in Michigan’s favor.
“We were down 19 in that game against UCLA and we found a way to come back and win,” Rose said. “In a similar way, Michigan was able to hold on late. There were missed free throws and things of that nature that took place, but to find a way to win that game was a terrific feat, especially in this climate of those top teams getting eliminated.”
Rose is now an ESPN host and NBA analyst for the network. He also gave his face and voice to the team’s pregame hype video for home games this season at Crisler Center. He says this current group of Wolverines is its own team.
“I appreciate that they’re crafting their own identity,” Rose said. “People ask me about the long vs. short shorts and I point to that as a perfect example. Ultimately when you’re at a historic university like Michigan people are going to define you by how you make them feel and how much joy you give by watching you play. These are life-lasting memories, and the tournament is a proving ground for that. A 14-point win against Montana, a buzzer-beating win in Game 2 and they’ve got Texas A&M next.”
He likes his alma mater’s chances against the Aggies. Not having an extended layoff between games, as was the case between the end of the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City and the start of the NCAA Tournament, should be beneficial, said Rose.
“I understand the Big Ten did a really good job of making sure they got a money grab at MSG regardless of what may or may not be best for their teams going into the NCAA Tournament,” Rose said. “The team wasn’t as sharp and fluid as it went into the Big Ten Tournament. I think going into the next game they’re going to be back to more of the team was saw late in the Big Ten Tournament.”
A win against Texas A&M would move Michigan into the Elite Eight against either No. 4 Gonzaga or No. 9 Florida State on Saturday. Two wins this weekend and the Wolverines will be off the Final Four next week in San Antonio. Michigan was last there in 2013 when it beat Syracuse in the semifinals but lost to Louisville (a title since vacated).
There’s no reason the Wolverines can’t win these two games, Rose said.
“This is an exciting time,” he said. “I think this is a John Beilein-coached team, and what I mean by that is everyone knows about his pace-and-space offense and his ability to recruit players that really love to shoot the three, but I love the amount of discipline and patience that they approach possessions with, that they approach games with.
“Look no further than the last game against Houston when we hit the game-winning 3-point shot. I didn’t see any panic out of the team.”