Nick Moen: Michigan on the verge of best season in program history
This season, the Michigan women’s basketball program will have its best team in coach Kim Barnes Arico’s tenure. Probably its best ever.
The Wolverines have experienced several successful moments under Barnes Arico already. They have been to the postseason every year Barnes Arico has coached them. They have advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament three times in 2013, 2018, and 2019, and won the WNIT in 2017.
But the best is still yet to come.
Michigan enters this year with a No. 25 AP Poll ranking. With juniors Amy Dilk and Naz Hillmon leading the way, it has a realistic chance to become a top-15 team throughout the season. This season the Wolverines shouldn’t be looking towards making the NCAA Tournament, or even being a five or six seed. They should be fighting to host an NCAA opener.
“We want (Michigan) to be a program that was built at a great foundation, a great culture, really stood for something,” Barnes Arico said. “To be recognized in the top 25 in the preseason speaks to our program and our consistency of being successful the last few years.”
Throughout Barnes Arico’s tenure, the Wolverines have been a consistent but not memorable team. In the tiered talent of women’s college basketball, they’ve beaten the teams they should beat. They’ve lost to the teams they should lose to. They’ve been a middling team that makes it to the first or second round of the NCAA tournament and then goes home, losing to seniors who are playing their last game on their homecourt. This season can change that.
The program is equipped with the right components to make it to the Sweet 16, at least. Hillmon provides excellent back-to-the-basket play. If she can execute shots outside the paint throughout the season, the team will be successful. Dilk provides distribution and the ability to score a triple-double against any team. Her leadership and demand on the court must elevate as the season begins.
But it’s not going to come down to Dilk and Hillmon — the team will have to rely on depth and shot-making abilities as well. And for the first time, Barnes Arico has assembled a team that can do that. It’s not just Katelynn Flaherty and Hallie Thome, or Dilk and Hillmon. There are real, tangible threats beyond Michigan’s core with Hailey Brown, Leigha Brown and Akienreh Johnson.
Big Ten standouts like Iowa’s Kathleen Doyle, Maryland’s Kaila Charles and Purdue’s Ae'Rianna Harris have all graduated and moved onto the pros. This opens up an opportunity for Michigan to take advantage of now given that it’s more deep and experienced than ever.
The Wolverines aren’t the only team whose overall talent is rising in the Big Ten. Indiana, Northwestern, Ohio State, Maryland and Rutgers are all eyeing a Big Ten championship.
“When you play teams that are experienced like those, you have to limit your turnovers, you have to be able to get stops on the defensive end and you have to take away their best player,” Barnes Arico said. “We know on any given night any team can be able to come out and be successful from top to bottom, so we can't look past anyone.”
The Big Ten is competitive — Maryland isn’t head and shoulders above the rest anymore. But the “any team can beat any team” mindset is great for the Wolverines. Michigan has proven it can compete. Hillmon is on the verge of dominating the Big Ten yet again, Dilk will be right beside her and additions like Leigha Brown will diversify scoring.
The Wolverines have never won a Big Ten title, but there is no reason why they can’t do it this year with one of the best starting fives in the country and a coach on the trajectory to make major strides with her program.
By the end of the season, fans could be looking at one of the most successful Michigan teams in history. And the program can climb up the next rung of women’s college basketball.
Moen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nicholas_moen2.
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