Michigan March Madness

This month in Michigan history: March Madness

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Welcome to March. The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness, has been one of the most-watched events in sports for nearly a century. Starting with “Selection Sunday” where the 68-team field is decided based on several months of exciting play, it ends with the Final Four and championship game come April. It is a grueling test of what college players learned and experienced together throughout the regular season, applying it to a high-stakes, winner-takes-all gauntlet.

Detroit—and most other major cities—has had the privilege to host tournament games over the years. More importantly, the state of Michigan has a considerable March Madness pedigree, bringing home championships and unforgettable moments that have stood the test of time.

Michigan State Spartans

Despite what may happen during the regular season, the Spartans always make noise in the annual tournament, earning Coach Tom Izzo the nickname “Mr. March.” But, MSU’s success comes before the modern era too. Magic Johnson and the ’79 team claimed a national title over the bracket-busting Indiana State led by Larry Bird. Izzo’s 2000’s teams always manage to put it together, too, making it to 7 Final Fours, 9 Elite Eights, and 13 Sweet Sixteens.

  • Best March Madness game: 2000 National Championship (W) vs. #5 Florida. Mateen Cleaves went down hard with an ankle injury, then came back limping in the second half to push the team toward their second-ever NCAA title.
  • Tournament appearances: 31
  • Final Fours: 7
  • Championships: 2 (1979, 2000)
  • Record (W-L): 64-30 (.681)

Michigan Wolverines

When fans think of the Wolverines and March Madness, the first thing that comes to mind is the Fab Five. All recruited together as freshmen, their fashion sense, confidence, and gamesmanship made them must-see TV – and notorious in many ways. Chris Webber famously tried to call a timeout when Michigan had none remaining during the 1993 National Title game, squandering the trophy to North Carolina. They were later found to be accepting booster money, vacating many of their wins, but their legacy on the sport remains.

  • Best March Madness game: 2013 Sweet Sixteen (W) vs. #1 Kansas. Finishing fourth in the Big Ten, Michigan wasn’t expected to storm their way to the National Championship game. It started in the Sweet Sixteen when Trey Burke hit a half-court shot to send the game into overtime, knocking off the best team in the country and marking the Wolverines’ return to national prominence.
  • Tournament appearances: 27
  • Final Fours: 7
  • Championship: 1 (1989)
  • Win-Loss: 54-26 (.675)

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Next door to Ann Arbor, Eastern Michigan has put together a few March Madness performances to make them tied for third-best in the state. They were one of the first teams to establish the “classic 5/12 seed upset” by beating #5 Mississippi State in 1991. In that tournament, they also trampled Penn State to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the only time in program history.

  • Best March Madness game: 1996 Round of 64 (W) vs. #8 Duke. One of the most successful college teams in the history of the game, no one expects to win against Duke in the Big Dance. EMU point guard Earl Boykins recorded 23 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals in a game that was the Blue Devils’ first first-round loss since 1955. The scrappy Eagles were also the only ones to beat Texas Tech that season, so the Duke upset came as no surprise to them.
  • Tournament appearances: 4
  • Final Fours: 0
  • Championships: 0
  • Win-Loss: 3-4 (.429)

Other Michigan universities have had their bright spots in March, bringing pride to Michiganders all over the country. This year, look to see the Spartans and Wolverines bring their A-game after both finishing in the AP Top 10 to end the season. Happy March Madness!

There’s a lot more than basketball going on in your backyard. Browse more community stories at Empowering Michigan