As the Michigan men’s basketball climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the country in the Associated Press poll, the women’s team dropped out of the Top 25 after a two-week appearance.
After gaining the No. 25 ranking on Jan. 14, the Wolverines (5-2 Big Ten, 16-4 overall) moved up to No. 23 on Jan. 21 as they pushed their winning streak to a program-best 10 games. But following two losses in the past week to No. 7 Penn State and No. 24 Iowa, they are now the first team out, at No. 26.
While Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico and her players have said in the past the ranking doesn’t mean much to them, two home losses in a week do.
Playing in front of a season-largest home crowd of 2,842 against the Lady Lions last week, the Wolverines struggled from the field, shooting a season-low 27.8 percent. Michigan never put up much of a fight, as senior forward Rachel Sheffer was the lone player in double figures that night with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wolverines’ leading scorer, senior forward Kate Thompson, has had limited production. Though she is still averaging 15.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, Thompson’s numbers have dropped since her seven 3-pointer game against Northwestern two weeks ago.
In Michigan’s recent three-game stretch, Thompson has averaged just 11 points per contest while shooting 25 percent from beyond the arc. The senior typically shoots at a 45-percent clip.
It’s not surprising that Thompson has cooled off a bit from her unsustainable pace from behind the arc, but the timing is poor for the Wolverines.
“We need someone to score,” Barnes Arico said following Michigan’s loss to Penn State. “If Kate’s open she has the green light to score. She’s one of the best shooters in the country.”
Statistically speaking, Thompson is – she ranks seventh in country in 3-point shooting. But when you live by the 3, you die by it as well. And when teams have centered their defenses around stopping the Wolverines’ leading scorer, Michigan’s offense has stalled.
Such was the case against Iowa, when Sheffer was held scoreless and Thompson was limited to 10 points.
“I thought we really couldn’t get anything going for Rachel and Kate,” Barnes Arico said. “(It) really made us unsure of what we were doing offensively.”
While the game against the Hawkeyes can be seen as just an off day for Sheffer, since she tallied a combined 39 points in the two games prior, the recent inconsistency of Thompson might just be the beginning of things to come.
“Well, I think teams are really keying on (Kate), and they’re really setting their defense to take her out of what she’s capable of doing,” Barnes Arico said. “I think she needs to make some adjustments. She needs to be able to curl off screens, and she needs to be able to do some different things, and we have to find some better ways to set screens.”