Comparing Kentucky's All-Freshman Starting 5 to Michigan's Fab Five
There had never been a recruiting class as heralded and anticipated as Michigan's Fab Five back in 1991...until this year.
John Calipari and Kentucky pulled a haul that included six McDonald's All-Americans and five players ranked in the top 10. It was a recruiting class so good that Wildcat fans were actually printing 40-0 t-shirts for a team that the year before lost in the first round of the NIT.
Kentucky endured some bumps in the road. Not all of the freshmen played up to their vaunted rankings, but here we sit with the Wildcats heading to an Elite Eight showdown with Michigan and playing their best basketball of the season. It calls to mind when the Fab Five made their run to the championship game in 1992.
The comparisons are uncanny. Michigan went 25-9, and Kentucky is presently sitting at 27-10. Both teams started all freshmen and were at their best when they did.
But how do the teams stack up man to man? Let's pair them up and see who would come out on top.
Jalen Rose vs. Andrew Harrison
Jalen Rose took to the college game right away. He filled up the stat sheet, averaging 17.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 4 APG.
Rose was also the defacto leader of the team. While Chris Webber was undeniably the star, Rose was the one with the swagger that helped define the Fab Five. While he was more of a combo guard, Rose ran the point well and made sure that Webber and Juwan Howard were able to shine even as he got his.
Rose had an explosive quality about him and shot a surprisingly good percentage from the field as well. Not many point guards come into college as fully formed as he was.
Andrew Harrison had more of a bumpy transition to college. He is superbly talented at using his large frame and staying under control during contact, but he lacked the kind of speed and penetration that would put him in Rose's league.
While Harrison has had his ups and downs this year, he seems to be at his peak in the tournament right now. His decision-making has improved, and he is developing a knack for making big plays lately. Still, it's almost unfair to compare him to Rose.
Edge: Jalen Rose
SG: Jimmy King vs. Aaron Harrison
Jimmy King filled the perfect role for the Fab Five. He was easily the best shooter on that team, shooting 46.7 percent from the three his freshman year and averaging 9.9 PPG. But King wasn't just a shooter, he also had great athleticism and could sky with the best of them back in the day.
Aaron Harrison is also the best shooter on his team or at least the most consistent. He only shot 34.2 percent from the three, but he led all non-big men on the team in field-goal percentage. Harrison is asked to be one of the main scorers on Kentucky and averaged 14.1 PPG.
But although Harrison averaged more, he took the second-most shots on his team, while King took the fourth-most. Harrison, like his brother Andrew, is really starting to come into his own at the end of the year, but as freshmen, King feels like the better player at that point in his career.
Slight Edge: Jimmy King
SF: Ray Jackson vs. James Young
Ray Jackson is definitely the forgotten member of the Fab Five. He was the only one to not make it to the NBA and only averaged 4.8 PPG his freshman year. But Jackson was a very solid defensive player and another great athlete on a team full of athletes.
Jackson could play above the rim when he needed to but mostly was not asked to do much scoring.
James Young, on the other hand, was second on Kentucky in scoring with 14.3 PPG and led the team in shots taken. Not all of those shots were good shots, but he's a volume shooter, and that's exactly what the Wildcats needed from him.
Although he is a streaky shooter, when he's on, Young is absolutely elite. And he's also shown good ability to create his own shot and finish near the rim. And when he needs to, Young can rise up and throw down an alley-oop or two.
He may be raw, but Young is one of Kentucky's best players, and Ray Jackson just wouldn't be able to stand up to him.
Edge: James Young
PF: Chris Webber vs. Julius Randle
It's not really fair to Julius Randle.
As good and as dominant as Randle has been at times this season, Chris Webber was in a league of his own. Webber was ahead of his time. His strength, quickness and athleticism was so far above anyone else he was playing with, it wasn't even funny.
Webber got so many of his points just by bullying defenders and getting dunks, but he had a surprisingly soft touch around the basket. He even passed well, averaging over two assists per game.
Webber is a good comparison to Randle, actually. Randle does most of his damage because he's just physically stronger than his opponents. But Webber had a nastiness to him that Randle lacks, and Randle can get complacent at times.
But when Randle decides to take over a game, watch out. He can be a force of nature. His shot isn't as good as Webber's, but his post moves and finishing with contact was better.
Still, there's just no way Randle was going to come out of this one on top.
Edge: Chris Webber
C: Juwan Howard vs. Dakari Johnson
Juwan Howard was a little more raw than Webber and Rose his freshman year. He definitely benefitted from extra time in school. However, he was no slouch right off the bat either.
Howard was third on the team in points per game with 11.1, but he only shot 45 percent from the field. He had a decent jump shot, but not much of a post game. And for as tall as he was, Howard did not rebound at an elite level. Sure he played alongside double-double machine Webber, but still it was a skill he needed time to develop.
Dakari Johnson had a slow start to his freshman year, but eventually he has made himself a valuable member of the team and forced his way into the starting lineup.
Johnson only has a couple of post moves, but they are powerful and effective. He shoots 55.1 percent from the floor. Also his per-40-minute rebound averages are much higher than Howard's.
Johnson doesn't score as much as Howard did, but Johnson only attempts 3.4 shots per game compared to Howard's 9.8. Kentucky doesn't use him as much, but he could arguably have eclipsed Howard's numbers if they needed him.
Slight Edge: Juwan Howard
It's important to keep in mind that I'm just basing these comparisons on each player's freshman season. I'm not looking at what they eventually became or their pro potential. I'm also considering how each team uses the players and the roles they played.
The winner here is Michigan. That's not totally surprising, but if Kentucky makes a run to the championship game, I believe a lot more people will start taking the comparison more seriously.
I was surprised at how close the matchup for Howard and Johnson was. I thought Howard would be the clear favorite, but Johnson actually matched up up nicely with him as a freshman. I just gave Howard the eventual edge because I'm not convinced Johnson's numbers would stay that efficient if he were used more.
King got the slight edge over Aaron Harrison, but with a strong finish to the tournament, it's possible that Harrison's legacy may grow to a point where I would put him ahead of King.
The Webber-Rose tandem is just so much stronger than any one-two punch Kentucky has this year, so regardless of what happens in the NCAA tournament, Michigan's Fab Five freshmen will always rise above Kentucky. Now it's just a question of how close the Wildcats want to make it.