Michigan-Carolina pits chaos against control Fab 5 rule open court, but Smith has system

April 05, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- The stark contrast between Michigan and North Carolina is obvious. No matter if you're looking from the outside in, or from the inside out, the Wolverines and Tar Heels are teams of differing styles.

So the boundaries for tonight's NCAA championship game between these two college basketball megapowers here at the Louisiana Superdome are clearly defined. It's the "Get Smart" final: chaos vs. control.

"North Carolina is more of a program, Michigan is more a players' domain," Wolverines point guard Jalen Rose said yesterday. "Carolina is a great school, and Dean Smith is a great coach. They've been doing the same things for 20 years."

As much as his system is the same as it was in 1968 -- when Smith made his first of five trips to the NCAA championship game -- it's his willingness to loosen the reins a little this year that enabled North Carolina (33-4) to have the chance to do what it hasn't accomplished since the Tar Heels gave their coach his only title, here against Georgetown in 1982.

Though Wolverines coach Steve Fisher is perceived as a friendly figurehead who lets his players do whatever they please, Michigan (31-4) certainly had to demonstrate qualities such as discipline and resolve -- not to mention play a little defense -- to get to their second straight title game.

"One of our labels is that we don't play with any discipline," Michigan forward Chris Webber said after his 27 points and 13 rebounds helped the Wolverines upset Kentucky, 81-78, in overtime in Saturday's second semifinal game. "One of the things you have to do to beat a team like Kentucky is show discipline. Discipline won us this game."

So did Jamal Mashburn, the Wildcats' All-American forward, who fouled out with 3:23 left in overtime, when the Wildcats were ahead by four. So did Kentucky guard Dale Brown, who separated his shoulder with more than six minutes left in regulation, shortly after the Wolverines had surrendered what had been an 11-point lead.

As Fisher said afterward: "You say that you have to be a little lucky and good, and we were both."

Luck had nothing to do with North Carolina's 78-68 semifinal victory over Kansas earlier in the evening. Kansas coach Roy Williams could spit into the Mississippi River until he got dehydrated and he probably would have seen the same result. The Tar Heels had too much inside with Eric Montross and George Lynch, and too much outside with Donald Williams.

It is the play of Williams that demonstrates how Smith has changed. Only a sophomore, Williams has been given more freedom at this point in his career to hoist up long-range jumpers than any Tar Heel in a long time. Maybe in Smith's 32 years in Chapel Hill. And it has paid off.

"Coach Smith is a very smart man, and he knows that we needed someone to shoot outside to help the big guys inside," said junior forward Brian Reese. "Donald isn't the only guy on our team who can hit the three, but he is our best outside shooter. I don't know where we'd be without him."

Said Smith: "He takes shots much the same way as Hubert Davis did last year. We're not opposed to someone shooting. They know if we're not in our 'Burn' offense [to go inside], then they're allowed to take the three if they're open. He [Williams] certainly enjoys shooting it. If he makes it, I say, 'Way to go Donald.' But I wouldn't like it with a three-point lead and 45 seconds left on the [shot] clock."

Actually nine seconds had elapsed on the 45-second clock when Williams hit a three against the Jayhawks, with 2:43 left and the Tar Heels clinging to a 68-65 lead. That shot, along with a steal and two free throws by Williams 80 seconds later, helped North Carolina hold off Kansas.

Now comes a totally different challenge: Instead of playing a team that runs the same plays because their coach is a former North Carolina assistant, here comes a team that seemingly doesn't run a play. The Tar Heels learned that after losing to the Wolverines, 79-78, in the semifinals of the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii.

But Smith found out something else about Michigan in December.

"I think they're an exceptional rebounding team," Smith said yesterday. "They also pass the ball very well. Chris Webber is a great rebounder, but he's also a very good passer. And they play very good defense. Those are all things that lead to the kind of success they've had."

It is also an interesting matchup of coaches: Smith, who has been criticized for not winning more despite having enormous talent, will be going after his second championship. Then there's Fisher, who has been criticized despite winning one title and reaching three NCAA championship games in only five years.

Truth is, this year's North Carolina team is different from the one that won here in 1982. This team doesn't have anyone like James Worthy or Sam Perkins or, of course, like Michael Jordan. But that team didn't have a dominating center like Montross. The system has prevailed.

And, said Michigan's Rose, "The system won't break down. We just have to play better."

Truth is, this year's Michigan team is different from the one that won in Seattle four years ago. This team doesn't have anyone who shoots the ball like Glen Rice, and Rose is far from the true point guard that Rumeal Robinson was. But that team didn't have anyone with the raw power of Webber. The players have prevailed.

"They are," said North Carolina's Montross, "a very, very good basketball team."

Chaos or control.

Take your pick.

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