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While the Michigan women's basketball team plays its third-round National Invitation Tournament game, the men's team will be playing its Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game.

So the crowd at Crisler Center could be, well, light.

That said, an intriguing matchup for Kim Barnes Arico will assure at least some seats are filled when the Wolverines host St. John's at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Before arriving at Michigan in 2012, Arico spent 10 years as head coach at St. John's, taking the team to four NCAA Tournaments.

This will be the first time the teams have met since Arico arrived in Ann Arbor.

"It's definitely exciting," Arico said. "It's a lot of history.

"I owe so much to St. John's for giving me the opportunity at the Division I level. They took a chance on a DII head coach.

"It holds a special place in my heart. I'm a New York kid at heart. It was really special.

"But now, I bleed blue."

Michigan (24-9) and St. John's (22-11) are among the final 16 teams left in the Women's NIT. And the ties between the programs are many.

Start with St. John's head coach Joe Tartamella, who was a graduate assistant under Arico at St. John's. His wife is Shannon Farley, an assistant under Arico at Adelphi at Long Island and St. John's, and the nanny for Arico's first child.

St. John's assistant Jonath Nichols was an assistant under Arico there, as well, while St. John's assistant Da'Shena Stevens played for Arico on the Sweet 16 team in 2011-12, her last year. And Veronica Mullen, the director of basketball operations at St. John's, played for Arico at Adelphi.

Meanwhile, Michigan assistants Joy McCorvey and Megan Duffy were assistants under Arico at St. John's, while McCorvey also played for Arico at St. John's. And Amy Mulligan, director of operations, was Arico's SID at St. John's.

"It'll be great to see everybody," Arico said. "Especially in Michigan, and not in New York."

The programs only have met one other time, in 1998, long before Arico arrived at Michigan, or even St. John's, for that matter.

There was some thought the teams might be put in the same opening-weekend pod of the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament, as the Selection Committee likes stories like that.

But there has been no discussion about scheduling each other since Arico arrived in Ann Arbor.

Not that there's any bad blood. Far from it.

Early on, Arico understandably didn't want to have to face players she recruited. Now -- starting Thursday -- it will be a little easier, and kind of like a family reunion, with her parents trying to get flights, and an uncle already having booked one.

So even though the men's team will be playing Oregon in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City around the same time -- at 7 p.m., so a 5 p.m. tip for the women's game would've been much better than 6 -- there definitely will be a bit of buzz at Crisler, too.

"My family's really excited, my children are really excited," Arico said. "For me, I don't know how I feel about it (laughs).

"But everyone else is excited."

The winner moves on to play the winner of Thursday's Penn State-Virginia Tech game.

WOMEN'S NIT

Michigan vs. St. John's

Tip-off: 6 Thursday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

Records: Michigan 24-9, St. John's 22-11

At stake: A spot in the quarterfinals, against either Penn State or Virginia Tech.

Notable: Michigan has played in the WNIT Final Four each of the past two seasons.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tonypaul1984

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