The tournament may be different, but the goal is the same.
The Michigan women’s basketball team finds itself in a place to do some serious damage in a different postseason tournament — the WNIT. The Wolverines might have been disappointed after finding out they would not be playing in the NCAA tournament, but they quickly shifted gears to the WNIT.
“I think a lot of us were pretty upset that night (selection Monday), so it took a little time to cool off,” junior guard Courtney Boylan said after practice Wednesday. “But the next day rolled around and our mindset was really set for the next game. We didn’t do quite enough to get into the NCAA Tournament, but we are ready for the next goal, which is to win the WNIT.”
Michigan (10-6 Big Ten, 17-12 overall) will drive down the road to Ypsilanti on Thursday to take on Eastern Michigan (10-6 MAC, 22-12 overall) in its first test since losing to last-place Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. And Michigan coach Kevin Borseth knows the Wolverines can’t look past the Eagles.
“Eastern is hot,” Borseth said. “They are really just playing extremely well.”
Eastern Michigan went into its conference tournament a No. 5 seed, but won three games in a row to reach the finals. It eventually lost to Bowling Green by five points in the championship game, just missing an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles have an impressive starting lineup, but the production drops off after that — they have just four players averaging more than four points per game. In contrast, Michigan has eight players averaging more than four points per game.
Their starting lineup doesn’t feature a single player over 6-foot-1, making the Wolverines the larger team for one of the few times this season. The big difference in the starters, though, is in the experience. There will be three seniors starting for the Eagles, and only one senior — Veronica Hicks — for the Wolverines.
Michigan will be forced to compete with the impressive Eastern Michigan backcourt, which is headlined by two players who account for almost half of the team’s total offensive output. Junior Tavelyn James averages 17.5 points per game, and senior Cassie Schrock contributes almost 15. Schrock also leads the team in rebounds, with a little over seven per game, and assists, with almost six per game.
As a team, though, the Eagles are not impressive shooters. They shot just 39 percent from the floor, including a paltry 29 percent from 3-point range during the season. Instead, they rely on creating turnovers to secure baskets in transition, and they force an astounding 21 turnovers per game, including 12 steals per game (16th in the nation).
That would be an issue for the Wolverines if they had trouble holding onto the ball, but fortunately for them, that is usually the least of their worries. Michigan only turns the ball 13 times per game — good for second in the country.
Michigan will have to stick to what it excels at in order to advance one step closer to its goal. If it can take care of the ball and limit the damage from the Eagles backcourt, the Wolverines should be in good shape.
“There isn’t a lot of preparation, but we know who we are and we need to do what got us to this point,” Boylan said. “It is important to do what we know how to do.”