1. Rebounding will be the difference between wins and losses.
Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico admitted before the season that rebounding was a major concern for her team. Junior Cyesha Goree is the only returning forward who saw playing time last season, and she made only brief appearances in nine games. Barnes Arico knew that in order for her small team to be successful, she would need to get rebounding production from her largely unknown forwards and her undersized guards.
In Friday’s 11-point loss to Bowling Green, Michigan was outrebounded, 35-30. Conversely, the Wolverines dominated the glass in their win against Arizona on Saturday, outrebounding the Wildcats, 44-32.
In Saturday’s game, junior guards Nicole Elmblad and Shannon Smith needed to pick up the rebounding slack for Michigan, gathering 13 and seven boards, respectively. In the future, the guards on the team will have to continue that success.
2. Shannon Smith won’t need much time to adjust back to Divison I basketball.
Smith arrived for her first year at Michigan this year after spending last season with Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College. Smith hadn’t played at the Division I level in two seasons since she decided to transfer out of North Carolina after her redshirt freshman season.
Coming into the season, Smith was a proven winner at junior college, where she was the MVP in Trinity Valley’s postseason run. Her winning attitude immediately had an effect on Michigan this offseason.
“Shannon has brought this sense of competition to our team,” Elmblad said at the team’s media day. “Every day in practice, she comes in with the fact that she wants to win everything.”
Despite her winning pedigree, it was possible that Smith would need time to adjust back to the higher competition when she joined the Wolverines. But Smith erased that notion by leading the team in scoring in both games last weekend, scoring 17 points Friday and 21 on Saturday. Smith felt comfortable in her role as the team’s primary scorer right away, hoisting up 35 shots on the weekend, 12 more than anyone else on the team.
3. In crunch time, the older players on the team can step up.
When Goree hit a buzzer-beater to send Saturday’s game against Arizona into overtime, she proved herself as a reliable player when the clock dwindled. Because nobody on the team this season would’ve been the first choice last year, it was unclear who would be counted on in clutch situations. So far, it appears as though Goree can be that player.
Elmblad and Smith, two of the other older players on the team, also made key plays late in the game that helped seal the Wolverine victory Saturday. Smith hit a key 3-pointer late in overtime to extend Michigan’s lead, while Elmblad blocked the Wildcats’ final attempt to tie the game in the extra period. The junior trio of Goree, Smith and Elmblad will have to continue to step up late if the Wolverines plan to win close games.
4. The freshmen will be thrown right into the mix.
The two healthy freshmen on the team, guards Siera Thompson and Paige Rakers, both saw major minutes in this weekend’s action. Guard Danielle Williams is out with an injury. Thompson started both games and played major minutes for Michigan, ending the weekend as the Wolverines’ second-leading scorer with 24 points. She also leads the team with 10 assists and turned the ball over just five times on the weekend, a trend that must continue for Michigan to be successful.
Though Rakers came off the bench in both games, she played a large role in Saturday’s victory, scoring eight points in 18 minutes, including the 3-pointer that gave the Wolverines the lead for good in overtime.
The older players on the team may have made the notable plays as the clock expired in regulation and overtime, but they wouldn’t have been in the position to do so without the play of Thompson and Rakers.
5. Bold Prediction: Smith will have the best scoring season in program history.
Averaging 19 points in her first two Division I basketball games in almost two years, Smith’s scoring prowess will only continue to develop as the season progresses. Coupled with the fact that the Wolverines have fewer proven scoring options this season, Smith will continue to see plenty of shots. Smith will only feel more comfortable in Michigan’s scheme, putting her in position to break Diane Detz’s single-season Michigan record of 21.6 points per game set in 1982.