Better than the Fab Five?

The Fab 5

Better than the Fab Five?
November 15
11:59 2018

The 2018-19 men’s college basketball season is upon us and the Duke Blue Devils made a strong impression as the best team in the nation by beating the second-ranked Kentucky Wildcats 118 to 84 in the Champions Classic last week. People have gone so far as to say that this Duke freshman class is better than the 1991 Michigan Wolverines class, better known as the “Fab Five.”

The Blue Devils took it to the Wildcats from the opening tip of the ball game. With Duke having the top three recruits in the 2018 class in R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson, they looked virtually unstoppable.

This is the first time in the history of the ESPN 100 that the top three recruits have all gone to the same college. Duke also has Tre Jones and Joey Baker in their class and they are also top 100 recruits as well.

To be totally honest, it pains me to laud this much praise upon the Blue Devils considering I am a die hard UNC Tar Heel fan. On the other hand, I am a sports journalist, so I have to give credit where credit is due. 

This Duke team has the chance to go down as one of the best we have seen in the past 25 years, but they are not on the level of the ‘91 Wolverines. That Michigan team featured freshmen Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and Jalen Rose.  Four of the five were McDonald’s All-Americans as well.

No, that ‘91 Michigan freshman class did not win a national title and these Blue Devils may, but they did make it to the national championship game. The ‘91Wolverines actually held a one-point lead at the half, before the Christian Laettner led Duke squad overpowered them in the second half of the championship game.

Howard, Webber and Rose all spent more than a decade in the NBA and were all All-Star level players at their peak.  Jackson and King were dynamic wing players at Michigan, but never panned out in the NBA.

Not only were the ‘91 Wolverines a great team, they changed the way college basketball looked and how it was played. I think this year’s Duke freshman class is going to be great, but I don’t think they will impact the game on that level.

The biggest difference in the proposed matchup between this freshman class at Duke versus the ‘91 Wolverines would have been post play. Webber and Howard were dynamic scorers in the paint due to how the game was played at the time. I think they would have overwhelmed this Duke squad in the end.

I do think the one advantage Duke would have had in this game would have been Williamson. At 6 foot 8 and 275 lbs., Williamson is a force we have never seen on the court. He has a 45-inch vertical leap with the agility of a two guard.  He would have caused some problems, but not enough to win the game.

It is too early to tell exactly how good these Blue Devils will be. If the game against Kentucky is any indication, they will be very formidable. I don’t think they will go undefeated, but I don’t foresee the Blue Devils losing more than 3 or 4 games all year. Once again, it pains me to admit such.

I know we will never have the chance to answer this debate, but it is fun to discuss such scenarios. The game was played totally different then, so those contrasting styles would have made for an interesting matchup.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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