This will be a special series in the worst teams of all time, dedicated to college basketball teams who flamed out in the NCAA tournament. These teams for the most part had quality regular seasons, but crashed come tournament time. Only teams that were seeded 1, 2, 15 and 16 will be included in this special series.
Whenever the University Of Michigan is mentioned in terms of college athletics, football is the first sport that comes to mind. There is nothing quite like a fall day in Ann Arbor with 100,000 fans clad in maize and blue, belting out “Hail To The Victors” in full throat. Legends such as Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson and Anthony Carter are only some of the great football players that have played at Michigan. With Bo Schembechler manning the sidelines with a watchful eye, Michigan are one of the pre-eminent college football programs in America.
Basketball, on the other hand has usually played second fiddle in Ann Arbor. Despite having great players such as Cazzie Russell and Rudy Tomjanovich, the Wolverines failed to make an impact in the Big 10. That changed in the 1984-85 season. Michigan enjoyed a terrific season, going 26-4 overall and 16-2 in the Big Ten.
One of the main reasons for Michigan’s success was Roy Tarpley. The 6-11 centre was dominant in the post, averaging 19 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. For his efforts, Tarpley was named as a third team All-American.
Antoine “The Judge” Joubert was another key member of the Wolverines. The 6-5 guard averaged 13.4 points and 5.6 assists per game. A tough, hard-nosed player, Joubert could post up smaller guards and either play a two-man game with Tarpley, or hit the outside jump shot over his shorter defenders.
The big find for the Wolverines was freshman Gary Grant. The 6-3 point guard averaged 12.9 points, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Grant added an element of quickness and defensive savvy in the backcourt and teamed up with Joubert to form an excellent combination at the guards.
So where did it go wrong for Michigan? They fell under the pressure of being a number one seed at the 1985 NCAA tournament. For the record, 1985 was the year the NCAA expanded the tournament to 64 teams, meaning the number one seed no longer had a bye in first round games. For winning the Big 10 title, Michigan earned a number one seed in the Southeast bracket and a first round date with unheralded Farleigh Dickinson. The champions of the ECAC Metro Conference were not expected to give the mighty Wolverines much of a battle. But when the two teams tipped off at the Omni in Atlanta, it turned out to be a close, tense affair.
The Knights gave the Wolverines everything they could handle and the crowd sensed a major upset brewing as Fairleigh Dickinson had a six point lead at halftime. The Wolverines did come back and eke out a 59-55 victory, but spent way too much energy on a lesser team.
In the round of 32, the Wolverines were faced against a Villanova team that people gave little chance of going far in the tournament. But the Wildcats had other ideas and used a stifling defensive game to shut down the Wolverines. In the end, Michigan’s poor free throw shooting did them in, as they shot only 60% from the charity stripe. Villanova pulled off the upset, bouncing Michigan 59-55, thus ending Michigan’s hope of a National Championship.
Michigan’s hopes were dashed largely because their best players couldn’t handle the pressure. Tarpley saw his points per game in the tournament drop to 14.5 from 19 in the regular season. Joubert managed a mere 7.5 points per game, shooting 31.8% from the field in the two tournament games. The Judge’s shooting accuracy was so bad, even the French Army turned him down for recruitment. Grant was even worse from the field, shooting 25% and was pointless in the loss to Villanova. He scored as much as a 50-year old on Spring Break.
This is what separates good teams from not so good teams. The teams that can deliver when the temperature rises while the not so good teams fold up like a cheap tent in a thunderstorm. The Wolverines were like a tent made out of paper mache that crumbled during a light drizzle. Villanova, meanwhile was like the house made of bricks that the big bad wolf couldn’t blow down. The Wildcats went on to win the National Championship in 1985.
The Wolverines struggles in the tournament continued. The following year, they repeated as Big 10 Champions but once again, they folded in the second round, losing to Iowa State. In fact, Michigan didn’t find their tournament mojo until 1989 when Steve Fisher took over from Bill Frieder as head coach. Fisher, along with Glenn Rice and Rumeal Robinson led the Wolverines to their first National Championship that season.
Roy Tarpley had plenty of issues after his college career ended. After being drafted seventh overall by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1986 entry draft, Tarpley struggled with drugs and alcohol issues, as he was arrested three times for DWIs. Tarpley was suspended for one year when he tested positive for cocaine. While attempting a comeback, Tarpley had more problems with drinking and driving which forced NBA commissioner David Stern to ban Tarpley for life.
Antoine Joubert was drafted by the Detroit Pistons, but never played a game in the NBA. The Judge spend his professional career in Europe.
Gary Grant was the fifteenth overall selection by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1988 NBA draft. But before he could play his first game, Grant was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Grant bounced around the NBA, playing for the Clippers, New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Portland Trailblazers as well as a stint in Greece. Grant played his last NBA game in 2000, averaging 7.9 points and 5.5 assists per game in his career.
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