UM, MSU women await NCAA Tournament fates

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

One more win, and the Michigan women’s basketball team will set a program record with 23.

The Wolverines just hope that win comes in the NCAA Tournament, which will unveil its 64-team field Monday night on ESPN and ESPNU.

Michigan is said to be on the bubble, while Michigan State appears to be safely in the bracket.

“As a coach, you’re always sweating. You never know until you know,” said Kim Barnes Arico, Michigan’s fifth-year coach. “Until our name is called, we will definitely be a little bit nervous.”

Michigan (22-9, 11-5 Big Ten) are listed as a No. 10 seed by ESPN women’s bracketologist, Charlie Creme, who also has the Wolverines listed as one of the final four teams in the field.

Michigan State (21-11, 9-7), despite a worse record, is listed by Creme as a No. 9 seed and pretty solid.

The Spartans are riding a little surge at the end of the season that appears to have helped, including a pair of victories over the Wolverines in the final six games, and an appearance in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, where they lost to league powerhouse Maryland.

Michigan State has dealt with its fair share of adversity this year, most notably the month-long absence of coach Suzy Merchant, who took a leave to deal with some health issues after fainting during a game Jan. 1 against Illinois.

The Spartans went 3-3 in her absence.

“Coach Merchant missing with be a discussion point,” Creme said Friday on a conference call with reporters, when asked if the Selection Committee will take that into account. “I don’t think it would carry that much heavy emphasis. It’s going to come down to the fact that Michigan State finished pretty well.

“To the Merchant point, I think, yeah, they will talk about it and say, ‘OK, what did they do without her? What did they do immediately upon her return? Were they a different team?’

“But ultimately, I think that’s sort of a secondary issue to let’s just look at the blood and guts. How did they do against their best competition? How did they finish the season? Did they schedule well? How did they do against that schedule.”

Michigan State is listed at 41 in the RPI, compared to 47 for Michigan.

The Spartans had a big and dominating win over Ohio State in January, with senior guard Tori Jankoska, one of the stars of the league, leading the way with 42 points.

Michigan State also has a strength of schedule that trumps Michigan’s, according to most metrics. The Wolverines played three ranked opponents in nonconference play, beating Gonzaga and losing to Florida State and UCLA. Gonzaga appears to have been overranked at the team, and now finds itself on the bubble.

In Big Ten play, Michigan had only two cracks at ranked opponents, and lost to then-No. 11 Ohio State and then-No. 3 Maryland. Neither game was a blowout.

The 11-5 conference mark would be good enough most years, but, as Creme noted, the Big Ten is down this year, so the two losses to Michigan State appear impactful, for both teams.

“Coach (John) Beilein came in and gave me a little pump-up the other day and said, ‘Don’t let your games against Michigan State define your season,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “We had one of the best seasons in Michigan history.”

Nobody on Michigan’s roster — led junior guard by Katelynn Flaherty (19.9 points) — has been to an NCAA Tournament, which last made it in 2013, Barnes Arico’s first season.

Michigan State is seeking its eighth appearance in Merchant’s 10 years.

NCAA Women’s Tournament Selection Show

When: 7 p.m. Monday

TV: ESPN (first hour), ESPNU (second hour)

Local interest: Michigan State appears to be safely in, while Michigan might be on the bubble. The last time they both made it into the NCAA Tournament the same year was 2013.