Over the past week, the Michigan women’s basketball team has been preparing. But for what? That is still an uncertainty.
The Wolverines sit on the precarious NCAA Tournament bubble, and according to ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Crème, Michigan is the second team out, behind just North Carolina. The Wolverines’ résumé isn’t great, but it just might be good enough to earn their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001.
Michigan comes in at 20-11 — its best overall record since coach Kevin Borseth took over in 2007 — but just 8-8 in conference play. The Wolverines’ lack of a strong conference record could be attributed to the strength of the Big Ten.
“I think our conference has been better this year, and hopefully the committee will see that,” said senior guard Courtney Boylan.
Following the conclusion of the Big Ten Tournament and Michigan’s second-round loss to Ohio State, four Big Ten teams sit in the AP top-25 poll — No. 11 Penn State, No. 14 Purdue, the 17th-ranked Buckeyes and No. 20 Nebraska. The addition of Nebraska to the conference could be a negative factor for Michigan’s hopes, as the Cornhuskers are a lock for an at-large berth, that could potentially have belonged to the Wolverines.
But two important figures that the committee looks at are a team’s Ratings Percentage Index and its record against teams with a top-50 or top-100 RPI. RPI uses a team’s strength of schedule and their success against that schedule to give a numerical value.
Michigan currently sits at 44th in RPI, which is noticeably higher than last season, when it also sat on the bubble. The Wolverines’ strength of schedule and their ability to avoid bad losses against weaker opponents, which have plagued them in seasons past, help their status.
Boyland has been here before — her postseason tournament hopes resting in the hands of the selection committee — and isn’t in unfamiliar territories with the mixed emotions that are felt while on the bubble.
“(Being on the bubble) is hard because you want it so bad, but there’s nothing you can do right now,” Boylan said on Tuesday. “It’s kind of in the hands of the committee, and that’s how it’s been the past couple of years, so I’m just hoping it turns out different for us.”
It might turn out different because the Wolverines’ résumé is thicker than it’s been in the past. Michigan defeated then-No. 11 Ohio State in Ann Arbor on Jan. 7 and traveled to Omaha on Feb. 9 and easily handled then-No. 15 Nebraska. The Wolverines also beat Florida on the road in the first game of the season.
“I think we deserve to be one of (the teams in), but the main thing is what the committee thinks at this point,” Borseth said. “We want to be one of those teams.”
But Michigan’s record against RPI top-50 opponents is a glaring weakness in its résumé. The Wolverines are 3-6 in this category, and 3-9 against teams in the top-100. Teams like Michigan State, who are also on the bubble, have a similar overall record to Michigan, but boast a better conference record. The Wolverines have a higher RPI, though, which could give them an edge to the committee.
Though Michigan’s postseason aspirations are in the hands of a group of people they’ve never met, as a senior, Boylan recognizes the significance of finally achieving a goal the team has always had during her entire career as a Wolverine. But even if it doesn’t get over the NCAA Tournament hump that has been present for more than a decade, Michigan will still be playing in the postseason — just at the WNIT.
“(Going to the tournament) is what we’ve been working for ever since I got here,” she said. “To me, it would pretty much mean everything. Even if we don’t, we’re still playing, and I still look forward to the opportunity to keep playing even if it’s in the WNIT.”