Last season, the Michigan women’s basketball team exceeded expectations as it advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament while tying a program-record 22 wins. But this is not last season. The Wolverines are in transition mode, and they welcome a lot of new faces to their sideline.
Michigan returns one starter from last season — junior forward Nicole Elmblad — and only two other players that saw playing time last year — sophomore guard Madison Ristovski and junior forward Cyesha Goree. Besides them, the Wolverines welcome junior transfer Shannon Smith, three freshmen and four players returning from anterior cruciate ligament injuries, who didn’t see action last year. In other words, of the 14 players on the team, only four saw NCAA action last season.
Uncertainty with this year’s lineup brings Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to center stage. The second-year coach will have her hands full finding offensive rotations that can push the ball as well as rebound. Barnes Arico’s squad is small, and her current starting lineup features only one listed true forward: Goree.
The guard position is the strength of this young team. Sporting six guards on its roster, plus one guard/forward swing player, Michigan is filled with ball handlers.
Leading the way is Smith, who Barnes Arico said would be the team’s go-to scorer. Smith played her freshman year at North Carolina before transferring to Trinity Valley Community College, which she led to a junior college national championship while averaging 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
After Michigan lost its big offensive ability when Kate Thompson, Jenny Ryan and Rachel Sheffer graduated, Smith will have big shoes to fill. Barnes Arico is going to look to Smith first on the offensive end and hopes the transfer can play big minutes.
Joining Smith is another new face, freshman Siera Thompson. The 5-foot-7 point guard has a strong hold on the starting position and showcased her speed in the team’s lone exhibition game, putting up 13 points on 50-percent shooting to go along with seven assists.
After Smith and Thompson, the starting lineup isn’t as straightforward. Barnes Arico made a last-minute decision to start Ristovski in the exhibition game because of her strong week of practice. Ristovski took advantage of her opportunity, finishing the game with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Last season, Ristovski came off the bench, averaging 2.3 points per game in 12.5 minutes. Barnes Arico praised Ristovski for her ability to crash the boards from the guard position, and with a lack of size on the team, such a knack could lead to a permanent starting role.
Behind Ristovski, the Wolverines have two freshman guards — Paige Rakers and Danielle Williams. Rakers could’ve seen playing time early, but she tweaked her foot early in the preseason, causing a slight setback.
As for Williams, ESPN.com ranks her as the 97th-best prospect in the country and Barnes Arico’s already making comparisons to a young Ryan. In her junior season, Williams helped lead her high school to a national championship. Her role this season is still up in the air, but Williams could see more playing time if she continues making strides in practice and Ristovski’s production falls off.
Lastly, Michigan has redshirt sophomore Halle Wangler, who transferred from Oakland. However, she will have to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.
The Wolverines have serious size issues. Last season, Elmblad started at forward — despite being listed as a guard — because of her strong rebounding presence. The junior had a breakout season, averaging 4.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 29 minutes per game. Barnes Arico will need Elmblad to step up as the only experienced starter.
The fifth starter will be Goree, who saw limited time last year. But this season, Barnes Arico says Goree is a different player, having lost over 20 pounds and improved her conditioning in the offseason. In the exhibition game, Goree started out strong but soon got winded — something more game experience can help fix.
Behind Goree, Michigan is very thin at forward. The Wolverines were initially counting on sophomore Kelsey Mitchell, one of the players returning from ACL injury, but she suffered a broken foot during preseason workouts and is now expected to be out three to five months.
Next up is sophomore Rebecca Lyttle, who is also coming off an ACL injury. Lyttle didn’t play last season, and her production is an unknown for this team. In her sophomore year of high school, Lyttle helped lead her team to the state finals averaging 13 points, eight rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. After her sophomore season, Lyttle struggled with injuries, something that’s followed her to college.
While junior walk-on Nicole Flyer is new to the team, she’s not new to Michigan athletics. The first-year forward spent her first two years as a Wolverine on the rowing team, but when Barnes Arico assessed her team’s size problems, she had her coaches find a Michigan athlete tall enough to play forward. While Flyer fit the bill, her role on the team is still up in the air, as her game experience is very limited.
If the Wolverines are thin at forward, then they’re virtually non-existent at center. Michigan sports two center/forwards, who are both coming off ACL injuries.
Senior Val Driscoll last saw action during her sophomore year when she averaged one point and 0.7 rebounds per contest. Like the rest of the team, Driscoll is an unknown, but Barnes Arico says the senior is in the best shape of her life and has shed 30 seconds off her mile time.
The Wolverines also have fifth-year senior Kendra Seto. The Ontario native transferred to Michigan after her freshman year at Vermont and sat out her sophomore year due to transfer rules. In her junior season, Seto played 27 games for the Wolverines, averaging 1.5 points and 1.4 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game. After sitting out last season with an ACL tear, Seto should see significant playing time with a relatively undersized team.