Because of UCLA's dramatic victories in the NCAA final round last spring, it is almost forgotten that the Bruins came within inches of being knocked out of the tournament before they reached San Diego. In fact, had C. J. Kupec's last-second shot gone in instead of hitting the rim, Michigan would have beaten UCLA in regulation time in the Western Regional. Instead, the Wolverines lost 103-91 in overtime. Now culprit Kupec has graduated and Michigan has added a gang of freshmen and a junior college transfer who look good enough to prevent such slipups this year.
The trouble is that none of the newcomers seems fully capable of replacing the skill or brawn of the 6'8", 230-pound Kupec, whose miss of that long heave against UCLA was one of his few failures last season. He was Michigan's best player, an 18-point scorer who also pulled down eight rebounds a game.
If the Wolverines are to improve their 19-8 record, they must receive immediate help from the new players, particularly 6'7" frosh Phil Hubbard, who is expected to step in for Kupec. Hubbard was an All-America at Canton, Ohio's McKinley High, where he broke Washington Bullet Nick Weatherspoon's scoring record, but at 195 pounds he cannot come close to matching Kupec's bulk, which was a big asset under the boards.
Fortunately, Hubbard will have more help in the forecourt than Kupec did. Six-foot-eight Joel Thompson, who averaged just two points a game last season, was the team's leading scorer during a 7-0 summer swing through Egypt. John Robinson (6'6") was last season's most pleasant surprise, shooting 60% from the floor. And depth will be provided by 6'9" Tom Bergen, a transfer from Utah, and 6'6" freshman Bobby Jones.
Nevertheless, Michigan's mightiest players are its mites. In 6'2" Captain Wayman Britt, the Wolverines may have the smallest major-college forward. That does not bother Britt at all. "Ninety percent of the time, the ball is rebounded below the basket," says Britt, who can go a foot above the rim if he has to.
Another 6'2" player, Steve Grote, is among the country's toughest backcourt men; Football Coach Bo Schembechler even wanted him to play the "wolfman" linebacker position. With a blond mustache and Afro, Grote would have been perfect for the part. Rickey Green, the nation's premier JC guard at Vincennes, where he averaged 21 points last season, completes a strong backcourt, though he needs to improve his ballhandling.
Despite winning 41 of its last 54, Michigan has had just one sellout in the past two years at Crisler Arena. The Wolverines use what should be a crowd-pleasing man-to-man defense and fast-break offense. Coach John Orr, a man who has lectured nuclear engineering students on positive thinking, expects the fans to come back this year. They should. After all, Michigan is a team that literally plays over its head.
After years of going off to play some teams nobody knew in some places nobody ever heard of, Louisville has forsaken the spread-eagled Missouri Valley Conference in favor of a league that makes sense. By most standards—economics, publicity, natural rivalries—the new Metro Six ( Cincinnati, Memphis State, St. Louis University, Tulane, Georgia Tech and Louisville) promises to benefit the Cardinals' program. Instead of outlanders from Texas and New Mexico fans will get to see more of Memphis State and Cincinnati. And instead of dodging dust in Amarillo, the players can strut their stuff on Beale, Bourbon and Peachtree streets.