Wolverines, Spartans face interesting early matchups in NCAA women's tournament
The leaked NCAA women’s Tournament bracket spoiled the fun for teams that planned to watch the selection show reveal together Monday night, but that didn’t do anything to dampen their excitement once they knew they were in the field.
There was a lot of celebrating in the state of Michigan with Michigan and Central Michigan earning No. 8 seeds, and Michigan State a No. 9 seed. All are at-large berths.
The Wolverines (21-11) will face Kansas State (21-11) in Louisville on Friday, while Central Michigan (25-7) and Michigan State (20-11) will play each other on Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, in the region hosted by No. 1 Notre Dame.
The Michigan State-Central Michigan matchup features intriguing storylines. CMU coach Sue Guevara was an assistant coach at Michigan State from 1986-96, and MSU coach Suzy Merchant played basketball at CMU. Guevara has led CMU, the Mid-American Conference regular-season champion, to its second-straight NCAA Tournament berth, This is the ninth time in Merchant’s 12 years as head coach the Spartans are in the tournament.
“We’re very happy to be in,” Guevara told CMU beat reporters Monday night. “Our non-conference (schedule) prepared us for this.”
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, who has led the Wolverines to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments after winning the WNIT and giving the women’s program its first banner in Crisler Center, said she had hoped to maintain the element of surprise after learning of the leaked bracket. The Wolverines were practicing Monday afternoon, when the bracket leaked, but with cell phones, text messages and social media access, there was little chance her players were not going to learn of their spot in the tournament.
“Everybody knew,” Barnes Arico said.
Still, the players and coaches gathered as planned at assistant coach Melanie Moore’s home and watched the originally scheduled time slot for the Selection Show, which was simply shared the already leaked bracket. The staff recorded the show that aired two hours earlier while they were wrapping up practice, and the team watched that.
“We went back and watched just so we could hear our name announced and called out and kind of have that excitement,” Barnes Arico said. “Never want to take for granted the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament especially with our team and the growth we’ve had the last few years and the disappointment we had a couple years ago when we weren’t selected (after the 2016-17 season), so it’s always a special day for us, Christmas in March for us, it’s a great surprise and a great day and a great honor to be selected.”
Barnes Arico chimed in on the MSU-CMU matchup and thinks playing in South Bend is a plus for local fans.
“That’s a tough first-round matchup,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s great for our state.”
Michigan faces Kansas State, which won eight of its last 10 but was blown out, 88-60, by Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament championship game. The Wolverines won eight of their final nine regular-season games, then beat Wisconsin in double-overtime in the Big Ten tournament before falling by a point against top-seed Maryland in the semifinals. The winner of this matchup will play No. 1 seed Louisville on Sunday.
“It’s a team that’s kinda on the upswing,” Barnes Arico said during a conference call Monday night. “I think they’re probably very similar to us, and I don’t know if when the (NCAA) committee was going through that, thought about these are two teams that finished real strong, it would be a great first-round matchup. They’re really experienced. Their roster is senior, senior, senior, senior, maybe one junior underclassman in their starting mix, so just an experienced group.”
Barnes Arico said the team felt confident Michigan was securely in the NCAA Tournament. But after the snub following the 2016-17 season she never takes anything for granted.
“It’s an enormous deal (to be in the Tournament), and it really ticks me off it’s not three years in a row, but every time I look at the WNIT championship banner, I say, ‘OK, that’s the first banner we have hung in Crisler and now we’ve paved the road,’” Barnes Arico said. “It’s been a process. It’s been built the right way with hard work and with believing in the process and really getting kids that believe they can come to Michigan and really make a difference.
“But now two straight years in the NCAA Tournament with the finish we had, I just think speaks volumes to the consistency of our program, and I think that’s the greatest thing you can say about any team is when they become consistent year in and year out, you know you have a program and not just a team.”
No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Kansas State
Tip-off: 2 p.m. Friday, Louisville, Ky.
Records: Michigan 21-11; Kansas State 21-11
No. 8 Central Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State
Tip-off: 1 Saturday, South Bend, Ind.
Records: Central Michigan 25-7; Michigan State 20-11