Barnes Arico leads streaky Michigan into the NCAA Tournament

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By Glenn Miller, Jr., Daily Sports Writer
Published March 12, 2013

Just days after being bounced from the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan women’s basketball team now has its sights set on loftier goals — an NCAA championship.

The Wolverines (10-6 Big Ten, 21-10 overall) will likely receive their sixth tournament berth in program history Monday under the leadership of first-year coach Kim Barnes Arico. At St. John’s University, Barnes Arico led the Red Storm to four tournament appearances, including a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2012.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Barnes Arico said. “Obviously it’s going to be a stressful week. We feel like we’re in a good position, and we feel like our total of body of work has been really good. We feel like we’re one of the top teams in the country.”

Last season, former Michigan coach Kevin Borseth helped the Wolverines achieve their only tournament berth during his five-year tenure in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines, however, couldn’t extend their season past the first round and ended the year with a loss to Oklahoma.

But that was last year.

Michigan now boasts one of the best teams in the Big Ten, carried by a core of five seniors and a rookie coach. The Wolverines have been streaky down the stretch this season, but it’s their senior class that insists on making some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

The question isn’t whether Michigan has the talent to make a deep run in the dance, but rather if it will show up. This season has been chock full of impressive wins, including victories over Michigan State and eventual conference tournament champion Purdue on the road.

When the Wolverines are firing on all cylinders, they have the potential to beat almost anyone. Michigan proved its competitive fight this season with near victories over two top-10 teams, Duke and Penn State.

“We could catch somebody off guard, and we got a lot of different weapons, and when we were playing well, I think we could beat a lot of good people,” Barnes Arico said.

Yet the Wolverines have also proven their ability to struggle against poor teams. Consecutive losses to Iowa and Minnesota midway through conference play marked the beginning of an ugly streak, marring an otherwise impressive record. After starting the season with the best record in program history, the Wolverines capped Big Ten play by losing to Ohio State on the road — a team that might not even make the NCAA Tournament.

If Michigan has any chance at postseason success, it must start with its perimeter shooting and rebounding. Senior guard Kate Thompson leads the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game but has been rhythmless from the 3-point line recently. The All-Big Ten second-team player is one of the most dynamic shooters in the country, but her inconsistency has plagued the Wolverines’ offense late in the season.

Barnes Arico’s presence has reemphasized the importance of rebounding. Last season’s -3.9 rebounding margin has transformed into a plus-3.0 margin. Accordingly, Michigan is 15-3 when out-rebounding its opponent this season.

Next Monday, known as “Selection Monday,” the NCAA’s selection committee will release the bracket. The Wolverines must wait to scout its opponent until then, but this week will provide a much-needed opportunity for Michigan to nurse any lingering injuries and prepare strategies for the tournament.

“We’re just going to keep working until Selection Monday comes around,” Ryan said. “We hope we’re in a good seed, and we feel like we are with our resume. That’s all we have to go on right now.

“We’re going to keep getting better day by day like we have all year and hope that when Selection Monday comes we’re in the spot we want to be in.”