Going into Monday as ESPN’s Charlie Crème’s “last team in” for the NCAA Tournament, the Michigan women’s basktball team knew “Selection Monday” was certain to be filled with anxiety.
But as the field of 64 was unveiled and Michigan was absent from matchup after matchup, all the Wolverines’ hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid withered away.
Still, Michigan remained positive in light of the news.
“To have a chance is something that we’re just thrilled with, and it shows just how far we’ve come,” freshman guard Jenny Ryan said. “As it gets going and they show the end of the at-large bids, the 10, 11, even 12 seeds. … And then we saw some teams that we weren‘t expecting to get at-large bids that went up there. So, you know, as it goes on you kind of get this sinking feeling that, okay, maybe this isn’t our year.”
The Big Ten received four total bids to the NCAA Tournament, including Iowa, the conference’s other primary bubble team, as a surprise nine seed. Michigan swept the season series against the Hawkeyes, which made the Wolverines’ fate come as somewhat of a surprise.
“When (Iowa) came up as a pretty high seed, I thought that was good for us,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “But obviously not.”
At Big Ten Media Day earlier this year in Chicago, Borseth said receiving an NCAA Tournament bid was the universal goal for teams across the country, including his own.
Yesterday, Borseth was unsure of why his team was left out of the Big Dance.
“They’ve got a pretty tough task, sitting down in the room and determining all that,” Borseth said. “They’ve got reasons why they do what they do, and we just have to live with it.”
But despite the fact that Michigan (8-10 Big Ten, 17-13 overall) leaves its preseason aspirations unfulfilled, the Wolverines expressed optimism about their postseason. While it was not yet official when the Daily spoke with the team, a Women’s National Invitation Tournament bid seemed very likely. Michigan will play Kent State in the first round of the WNIT on Friday in Crisler Arena.
“Ultimately, you kind of have to prove it,” junior guard Veronica Hicks said. “It’ll be all talk if we don’t come up big in the NIT. I think it would show, you know, that you deserve to be in the NCAA if you ultimately finish up the NIT.”
Certainly, a just-missed NCAA Tournament bid represents a giant step forward for a program that finished 10-20 a year ago and was picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason this year.
“It’s exciting for us, it’s exciting for the program, exciting for fans and the entire university just to really show that we are making progress and that they have the opportunity to see that progress in action,” Ryan said. “We didn’t just make the (WNIT), we made it as a high seed to get the home game and that’s exciting for us.”
Regardless of the disappointment that may exist, the opportunity to obtain a physical symbol of that progress is certainly one the team relishes.
“Our ultimate goal is to be number one and win a championship,” Hicks said. “Whether it’s NCAA or NIT, we’ll get a banner.”