The Michigan women’s basketball team knows all too well a sure spot in the NCAA Tournament isn’t really a sure thing until the bracket is released.
Kim Barnes Arico, her staff and players watched last year’s selection show, and it was generally assumed by women’s basketball pundits the Wolverines would be invited to the dance. The invite never came, and the Wolverines turned that snub into a motivated run to the WNIT national championship.
Michigan (22-9), with a more polished resume than last year with three wins over top-25 RPI teams and its worst loss to the No. 65 team in RPI, is awaiting Monday night’s selection show with bated breath. Meanwhile, Central Michigan, the top seed in the Mid-American Conference tournament, defeated No. 2 Buffalo, 96-91 in the MAC title game to earn an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State finished its injury-plagued season 17-13.
Barnes Arico knows that no matter how good her team, or any team, for that matter, has looked on the court and on paper, it’s all up to the NCAA Tournament committee. And sometimes the committee gets it wrong.
“Last year we were kind of in the position similar to Nebraska where we had finished third in the league and had a decent RPI, a top-50 RPI, but they said we didn’t have enough top-50 wins,” Barnes Arico recently told reporters. “This year we have a bunch of top-25 wins. We have three top-25 wins and we have a 38 RPI. Our conference is significantly better. Our double opponents were pretty good. So we think we’ve done what we needed to do. But now it’s up to seeing what the committee thinks, and I think we can’t count on that until Monday night when we see what happens.
“I think we are still a little scarred from last year. I don’t know if I will ever feel confident until I see our name on the screen Monday night.”
Charlie Crème, ESPN bracketologist, projects Michigan as a No. 8 seed and has Central Michigan as a No. 9. Late in the season, the Wolverines lost four of five but rebounded with an upset of then-No. 13 Maryland in the final regular-season game. They beat Penn State in their first Big Ten Tournament game but then lost to Nebraska.
“Michigan is an interesting team for me,” Crème said. “I think they’re in. I said a while ago I thought they were safely in. That win over Maryland I think sealed the deal because it kind of answered some questions that they were having with losing late in the season and they beat a good team in Maryland.”
Michigan has a better strength of schedule than last year and a higher RPI.
“It has forced me to take a closer look at our resume and everything that goes into it,” Barnes Arico said of what was learned after last season’s snub. “We put a big emphasis this year on ‘marquee wins.’ We knew that win over Marquette in the non-conference was a big one and took some pressure off us going into the Big Ten season. That win at Ohio State was huge, getting a big win on the road and then wrapping up the season with that win over Maryland after we finally got our bye was obviously a big one.”
The Wolverines have star-power with senior Katelynn Flaherty, the school’s career leading scorer and a three-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, the first in program history. Junior Hallie Thome also was voted to the first team and senior Jillian Dunson was all-defensive team.
Women’s Selection Show
When: 7 p.m. Monday
First and second rounds: March 16-19
Notable: Central Michigan earned an automatic bid by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament. Michigan is expected to get an at-large bid.