State hoops: Michigan men, women prove a perfect match — the only one in DI
There's no "L" in Michigan, and there are no L's at Michigan, either.
The Michigan men are 10-0 and the Michigan women are 8-0, making the school the only one in Division I to still have both the men's and women's programs undefeated. OK, sort of. Merrimack College in Massachusetts technically qualifies, too. Its men's team is 1-0, having won the delayed season opener Thursday, while the school's women's team is 0-0, and isn't scheduled to play until later this month.
Michigan's staking claim, though, and rightly so.
"That's pretty awesome," Michigan women's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "There's a lot of pride in that. It's really an awesome accomplishment.
"Every day I feel fortunate to work with our men's program and Coach (Juwan) Howard. He's our No. 1 fan.
"I hope we can keep it rolling."
The 15th-ranked Michigan women did their part Thursday afternoon, beating Nebraska, 64-62, at home. It was their first close game of the season, in large part due to the last-minute scratch of junior forward Leigha Brown (COVID-19 concerns), who's second on the team at 19.7 points.
No worries. Junior forward Naz Hillmon, first on the team in scoring at 25.7 points, poured in 35 to go with 22 rebounds to propel Michigan to its first 8-0 start. Hillmon tied a career-best in points, established a career-high in rebounds and had just the second 30-20 performance in program history.
The women's win came a day after the 10th-ranked Michigan men beat No. 16 Minnesota, 82-57.
Might there be a friendly rivalry brewing?
"We don't have a rivalry going, but we probably should," Hillmon said with a laugh. "Maybe I'll message a few of them and see if we can get that going.
"We go back and forth and congratulate each other.
"We support them, and they support us."
Both teams have managed to avoid any landmines in the record, despite some uncertainty in the schedule. The Michigan women recently were shut down because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and missed a couple of Big Ten games, but came back looking like they hadn't missed a beat. The Michigan men's game Saturday against Penn State is postponed because of Penn State COVID-19 issues.
The Michigan women play again Sunday, at home against Illinois.
And they'll have a chance to make even more history.
"8-0, holy cow," Barnes Arico said. "I hadn't realized we were never 8-0, and what better team to have that first accomplishment with than this group of young women. They've had to handle so many things thrown in their direction, 2020, we're still handling it. Their maturity and their experience and their commitment to this university is absolutely wonderful. I'm so proud that they get to be the first team that was 8-0."
The Michigan State women were 8-0, too. But the 23rd-ranked Spartans suffered their first loss of the season Thursday, 93-87 to No. 12 Maryland in East Lansing.
The Spartans, despite the early season perfection, had a hard time drawing the respect of Associated Press voters, but it might actually be a loss to powerhouse Maryland that opens some eyes. Michigan State trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half, but battled until the end and had opportunities if some more open looks would've fallen.
There are no moral victories, of course. But the game was a good measuring stick.
"They nailed them, and we didn't," coach Suzy Merchant said. "People have gotta hit open shots. That was the difference."
Said junior guard Nia Clouden, who had a team-high 32 points,, much of that on a twisted ankle, and went over the 1,000-point career mark against what essentially is her hometown team, Maryland: "We'll be able to learn and build off of this a lot. Maryland is a really good team and we took them all the way to the end. That says a lot about our team and where we match up nationally."
Merchant isn't one to make excuses. The team didn't do the things it needed to do. It fouled too much early. It didn't get to the line enough itself. It didn't rebound well enough.
But it also was a weird vibe Thursday, Merchant admitted, the day after an angry mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in a horrific scene that was broadcast around the world.
"It's been a tough day-and-a-half for our country, and it was good to be able to play a game like this, to be honest, just to take our minds off what's going on," said Merchant, who had some text conversations with a couple of players as the scene played out in D.C. on Wednesday, shortly after the Spartans had finished practicing. "We just continue to pray we can continue to move forward as a country and get things right."
Michigan State returns to action Sunday at home against Nebraska.
If there was a surprise of the week last week, it was Oakland men somehow managing a split with preseason Horizon League favorite Wright State. Wright State won the opener, 90-51, and somehow Oakland won the following day's game, 81-71. Coaches were interested to see how the new league schedule — weekend back-to-backs at a single site — would play out, given so little turnaround time.
Here's how it went for Oakland. Coaches were up well after Friday night's game and well into Saturday morning, cutting film until 2:30 in the morning. It was then sent out to players in the morning, three hours before Saturday's tip.
It's hard to make too many adjustments, but coach Greg Kampe decided to slow down the offense. If you know Kampe, that's painful for him. He's often had some of the highest-scoring teams in the nation. But not this year. Oakland had significantly fewer possessions in Saturday's game, yet scored way more points. Kampe finally decided fewer good shots would be better than more bad shots.
Oakland got guard Blake Lampman (thigh) back last weekend, but might be without Micah Parrish (knee) for this weekend's games at Green Bay.
Rival Detroit Mercy, meanwhile, if off again this week, as a support-staff member tested positive for COVID-19. With injuries and contact tracing, Detroit Mercy only had six available players, one less than what the Horizon League is requiring.
►Back to Michigan State's Clouden, who always knows where she stands, stat-wise. She knew she was about to become the 29th member of MSU's 1,000-point club.
"Cuz my mom keeps me up to date," Clouden said with a smile. "She texts every day. I'm getting out of practice and I'll have six texts from Mom.
"She really stays on top of basketball."
As for her ankle, she said it's fine, just rolled, and she'll be ready for Sunday's game.
►Without Brown, Michigan had big shoes to fill against Nebraska. Hillmon filled them.
"That's the hard part about these times," Barnes Arico said. "From one day to the next, you're not really sure what things are going to be. So we knew that we were going to have to get Naz the ball as much as possible.
"When you have a player like Naz, every night your first goal is to get Naz touches."
With 23, Hillmon took nearly a third of Michigan's shots. She made 15 of them.
►The Eastern Michigan-Western Michigan women's game was moved back a day, to 4 p.m. Sunday, from Saturday, because of COVID-19 issues at EMU. In more Western news, the Broncos added early enrollee Lauren Audino, a center from Ontario. She joined the team this month and she's immediately eligible.
►The Horizon League announced Friday no fans will be allowed at basketball games for the rest of the season, including guest and comp lists. Oakland had hoped to have fans for its games against Detroit at the O'Rena later this month.
►The Horizon League, based in Indianapolis, will co-host the men's NCAA Tournament, which is going to be played entirely in the state of Indiana.
State power rankings
1. Michigan (10-0)
2. Michigan State (8-3)
3. Oakland (3-10)
4. Central Michigan (5-5)
5. Eastern Michigan (2-3)
6. Western Michigan (2-6)
7. Detroit Mercy (1-7)
1. Michigan (8-0)
2. Michigan State (8-1)
3. Central Michigan (6-2)
4. Eastern Michigan (4-5)
5. Oakland (3-6)
6. Western Michigan (1-5)
7. Detroit Mercy (1-9)
Games of the week
►Oakland at Green Bay, 5 Saturday
►Wisconsin at Michigan, 7 Tuesday (ESPN)
►Eastern Michigan at Toledo, 7 Tuesday (ESPN3)
►Michigan State at Iowa, 9 Thursday (FS1)
►Green Bay at Detroit Mercy, 6 Jan. 15-16 (ESPN+)
►Central Michigan at Buffalo, 1 Saturday (ESPN3)
►Illinois at Michigan, 1 Sunday (BTN+)
►Nebraska at Michigan State, 3 Sunday (BTN+)
►Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan, 4 Sunday (ESPN3)