By Brian Schick
Daily Sports Writer
After an 89-57 loss to Illinois on Jan. 5, Michigan women’s basketball coach Sue Guevara bluntly stated, “I am not going to lose this basketball team.”
After six losses by an average of 14 points and Sunday’s embarrassing 29-point thrashing at the hands of Northwestern, Guevara has not just lost her team this season; she has lost her ability to successfully coach in the Big Ten.
When the season began, Guevara was committed to not repeating the disaster her team withstood the season prior. The 2001-02 season saw her team start out 10-1 despite a “tough” nonconference schedule, and two quality wins against top-25 teams Notre Dame and Louisiana State. But the Big Ten season brought a lackluster 6-10 record, and Michigan couldn’t stay with the premier teams in the nation’s best conference.
Guevara vowed to make sure her team wouldn’t have the same type of meltdown this season. In the offseason, she landed six freshmen and hoped her two senior co-captains – LeeAnn Bies and Raina Goodlow – would provide the leadership her team lacked down the stretch in the Big Ten last year.
Eerily similar to last season, Michigan started the season winning six straight – including a 70-64 win over No. 24 Santa Barbara – and cracked the top 25 entering the Big Ten season.
But that’s when the problems began again. Granted, two of the first three Big Ten losses were to Minnesota and Purdue, both ranked in the top 10. Then Michigan recovered with wins over doormats Indiana and Northwestern.
And following a heart-breaking two-point loss to No. 13 Penn State, it appeared Guevara’s team was finally prepared to tackle the Big Ten season. That has not been the case, and Michigan has lost five in a row and finds itself as the bottom team of the conference.
Guevara has said on numerous occasions that she schedules a tough nonconference season in order to prepare for conference play. If that’s the case, she needs to seriously consider adding Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee to her nonconference schedule in order to have a winning Big Ten record. This season’s nonconference opponents had an average RPI of more than 100, and saying that cupcake schedule prepared the Wolverines for the Big Ten season is a joke. Something seems off scheduling Oakland and Detroit in hopes of preparing for Purdue and Penn State.
Sunday’s 29-point loss to Northwestern is the declaration that Guevara has lost this year’s team as well. Northwestern was by far the worst team in the Big Ten and had lost 52 straight Big Ten games until it won earlier this season. For Michigan to score just 12 points in the first half should have been a signal to the coaching staff that the players have lost respect for their authority.
With five freshmen on this year’s team, Guevara needs to help them find their role in her lineup, as opposed to changing the lineup every game in hopes of providing a spark on the court.
It seems that the Big Ten – by far the toughest conference in the nation right now – has evolved while her teams are standing still. She has shown she is very effective against non-Big Ten schools, but when the conference season rolls around, her peers have the savvy to keep changing gameplans while Guevara keeps using what has worked for her in the past. Too often this season her offense is dictated by opponents’ defenses, when in the Big Ten it needs to be the other way around. Guevara can’t be intimidated and should force other teams off their game rather than play into it. If Guevara wants to be successful in the Big Ten, she should take some chances and mix up the plays on offense. At this point in the season, there isn’t too much to lose anyway.
She is obviously a great recruiter, but has had problems keeping players in the program, including highly-touted freshman point guard Stephanie Douglas, who transferred to Temple before even playing a game for Michigan.
Guevara needs to step up in the remaining weeks by teaching her players, rather than “wiping the slate clean” or “returning to basics” to help her players justify losing. She needs to work on new gameplans rather than finding new clich