When I tried to convince my friends to come to the Michigan women’s basketball WNIT semifinal round against Miami (Fla.) at Crisler Arena Wednesday at 7 p.m., they laughed.
Many consider the WNIT less of an accomplishment than qualifying for the Women’s NCAA Tournament.
Is making the WNIT something to scoff at? Or maybe the better question is, is it always better for a team to go to the NCAA Tournament instead of the WNIT?
I ran into freshman guard Dayeesha Hollins when walking to South Quad on Sunday morning before the Wolverines’ 78-52 quarterfinal annihilation of Syracuse. Hollins told me that she was nervous for this game — possibly more nervous than she’s been for any other matchup this year.
If Michigan had qualified for the NCAA Tournament, would they still be playing in big games? Would they still be getting opportunities to play through the nerves that Hollins experienced? Probably not.
It’s possible that the Wolverines could have upset some higher seeds — they had already beaten Xavier earlier in the year and had two close matchups against Ohio State, both top-10 teams.
While the Musketeers are still battling, Ohio State lost in the second round. Michigan State — who swept Wolverines in three games this season — also fell in round two.
So while this Michigan squad is better than average, it most likely wouldn’t have gone to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, the Wolverines have made the semifinal in the WNIT. Michigan has blown out all four of its tournament opponents, including a Northwestern squad that beat them twice in the regular season. Michigan remains the only Big Ten team left in either of the two major tournaments.
The Wolverines continue to add dates to their schedule, and that means the six freshmen that function as the base for the Michigan program are getting to play in some extra games.
The nerves of Hollins and the other freshmen are a result of being so deep in a legitimate national tournament. That will help her and her teammates in the near future, when the big-time tournament presents itself to the Wolverines.
Hollins, freshman guard Jenny Ryan, sophomore forward Carmen Reynolds and junior guard Veronica Hicks have all accumulated more than 1,000 minutes this season. Last season the Wolverines had just one player record more than a 1,000, then-senior guard Jessica Minnfield.
The point is, Michigan gains much more in the WNIT than it ever would in the NCAA Tournament, especially this year. In the WNIT, they have gained valuable experience in high-pressure situations. If they had made the NCAA Tournament, the season most likely would have ended three weeks ago.
So next year, as the Wolverines progress through their schedule, they will face a lot of teams with a weaker foundation from the previous season, especially in conference play.
I doubt that then, anyone will be laughing at Michigan’s 2009-10 WNIT run.