'It was a snub': Michigan women baffled by omission from NCAA's early top 16

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

As if the Michigan women's basketball team needed any additional motivation to play rival Michigan State on Tuesday, the Wolverines learned Monday they weren't one of the top 16 seeds projected for next month's NCAA Tournament.

Michigan is ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press, and was 11-1 — now 12-1 after the 86-82 win over Michigan State.

Michigan guard Akienreh Johnson (14) is defended by Michigan State guard Nia Clouden (24) during the first half Tuesday.

"I'm not a math major, but I think 11 is within 16," Michigan star Naz Hillmon said Tuesday, after scoring 31 in the win over Michigan State. "Very disheartening and disappointing.

"We're taking this opportunity to put a chip on our shoulder, and prove everybody wrong."

Michigan is 14th in the latest NET ranking, which is supposedly a significant factor in the NCAA Selection Committee's thinking, but the Wolverines have played only two ranked teams, beating then-No. 15 Northwestern and losing to No. 17 Ohio State.

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The Wolverines get a big chance to bump their resume Thursday, at Indiana. The Hoosiers are ranked 15th in the Selection Committee's first projection, released Monday.

The committee will unveil one more projection, March 1, before the final bracket reveal, March 15.

During practice Monday, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico opened the session by saying she wasn't going to talk about the projection, but then talked about it anyway, Hillmon said with a laugh. She wasn't happy.

Michigan returned last week from a two-week-plus layoff for COVID-19 issues. During that stretch, six games were postponed, with just one, Tuesday against Michigan State, being made up so far.

"You can’t tell me if we had six more games that we wouldn’t have had a great chance of winning all six," Barnes Arico said. "And if we didn’t win all six, how many were we going to lose, because that’s what you’re saying right now. If we won five or four, that would have put us in that top 16 last night when we didn’t have any control of that situation."

Barnes Arico noted the Michigan men (14-1) are a projected No. 1 seed, despite also having the same-length layoff, with five postponements.

"Our men are holding solid without playing a game and they deserve it," she said. "But no one is turning to our men and saying, well you didn’t play enough games."

Barnes Arico has other thoughts on the issue, too. Lots of them, actually. For starters, the Big Ten needs to be a better advocate for its members, she said. But the bottom line is, there's much else her team can do now but continue to win.

"You can’t fight for it and then not back it up," Barnes Arico said. "My conversations are going to end today because I’ll probably get in trouble or something for talking too much. Then we’ve got to get to work."

The top 16 seeds in the women's NCAA Tournament are typically particularly huge, because they assure home games through the first two rounds. This year, that isn't in play, with the tournament being held entirely in the San Antonio area. Still, the worse the seed, you figure the tougher the first- and second-round opponents. So seeding still makes a big difference, obviously.

This isn't the first time the Michigan women's program has felt slighted by the NCAA Selection Committee.

In 2016-17, Michigan was 22-9 and 11-5 in the Big Ten, but didn't get an NCAA Tournament bid. It was stunning, and the team said as much — then backed up its point by winning the WNIT championship.

That'll be the focus now, too: Backing up the argument that the first Selection Committee projections are simply wrong. A Sunday game against Ohio State looms big, as well. At least five games remain in the regular season — there's potential for a makeup or two — before the Big Ten tournament.

"We obviously thought it was a snub," Hillmon said. "It kind of puts things in perspective, and we know we have a lot of work to do, and we have some games to win."


Twitter: @tonypaul1984