Kim Barnes Arico on Michigan not making the NCAA Tournament. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The Michigan women’s basketball players met briefly and quietly with coach Kim Barnes Arico before exiting Revel & Roll where they had gathered to find out their NCAA Tournament destination.
But the Wolverines, coming off a program-best season with a strong nonconference schedule and a third-place regular-season finish in the Big Ten, did not receive an invitation and will instead play in the WNIT.
Michigan was 22-9 overall and 11-5 in the Big Ten and had reached a top national ranking at No. 20.
“We’re really, really disappointed with the way things turned out,” Barnes Arico said.
Warde Manuel, Michigan’s athletic director, could not hide his disappointment. He fully expected the team to earn a spot in the tournament.
“It was a great season, they finished third in the Big Ten,” Manuel said. “Disappointing their effort in this season didn’t get them into the NCAA Tournament. You can nitpick it all you want. I think the Big Ten regular-season third-place team should be in. It’s a tough league, so I’m disappointed for the ladies, yes.
“Kim is a great coach and these ladies are phenomenal and I’m very proud of them and love the direction of this program and where we’re going. We’ll use this to ensure that as we continue to move the program forward we remember this and we do the things that are necessary to take it out of the hands of the committee to have to make the choices that they make. It’s not an easy decision the committee does. We look forward to making that happen.”
Barnes Arico pointed to the Wolverines’ finish as the reason the committee chose to hold them out. They lost four of their last five, including games at Indiana and a one-point loss at Penn State, and dropped two games to Michigan State, the first at Crisler Center and the second time in the Big Ten Tournament.
“It’s a really difficult stretch for us,” Barnes Arico said. “It depended who we played and where we played them. We had the Penn State game won and that’s a one-point game and that’s a difference in our season right now. Now, obviously it doesn’t come down to that, but we had two of those games on the road and we played Michigan State two off those games. Michigan State’s just a tough matchup and the other two were on the road and anytime you play a Big Ten team on the road it’s going to be difficult.
“I think it came down to the last stretch we had is what they based it on for sure.”
Barnes Arico said it was a bad sign for Michigan when she saw Maryland as a No. 3 seed in the UConn bracket that was the first released.
“They played UConn probably as closed as anyone and they got a 3 seed in their bracket, so I knew that wasn’t good for our league,” she said. “It’s just disappointing how they voted our league.”
The Wolverines late in the season appeared a sure NCAA Tournament team. They last made the tournament in Barnes Arico’s first season (2012-2013), and this will now be their fourth-straight WNIT appearance. She met with her team before the players left to make sure they maintain their focus on the postseason.
“Obviously we’re extremely disappointed, but it’s going to be about how we moved forward from here and let that disappointment fuel you,” she said. “It’s something we worked extremely for all season long, and I thought we put ourselves in a position to be there, so I think it was just really disappointing.
“This is a big disappointment, but I think it’s a credit to our kids every year for doing a little bit better. Our senior class has done a little bit better than the team before it and put ourselves in a position to be a better team than the year before.
"That’s kind of happened every year since I’ve been here, so I think that’s really encouraging. I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction. I think our kids are a little devastated by this as they should be, but the program is definitely going in the right direction. They’re gonna take it and really take advantage of the opportunity to prove the rest of the country wrong.”
First round Women's NIT
Michigan vs. Kent State
Tip-off: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Michigan 22-9. Kent State 19-12