The Michigan women’s basketball team is coming off a home win against Minnesota and will look to develop a win streak with a victory against No. 17 Michigan State. The Wolverines beat the Spartans twice in the regular season last year, but fell to them in the Big Ten Tournament. With Michigan State’s roster revitalized and healthy, Michigan will face an uphill battle when it heads to East Lansing on Wednesday.
The Daily sat down with Spartan coach Suzy Merchant at Big Ten Media Day in October to talk about her ties to the in-state rivalry, new challenges in recruiting and what makes the 2015-16 season unique.
The Michigan Daily: The Michigan and Michigan State rivalry has been heating up, especially in women’s basketball as of late. What do you think the state of the rivalry is right now?
Suzy Merchant: It’s definitely a healthy rivalry. There’s a tremendous amount of respect between each program. But come Michigan game day, and I’m sure they feel the same way, there’s a different level of intensity and competitiveness that comes out.
TMD: You grew up in Michigan and played basketball at Central Michigan. Where did you and your family lie on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry?
SM: We’re Spartans. Both of my brothers went to Michigan State, my younger brother played baseball there. I wanted to play at Michigan State, but wasn’t quite good enough, I guess, to play at a major school. Where I grew up, where I’m from, there’s a lot more Spartans.
TMD: You have a freshman from the Czech Republic this year. How has the recruiting process changed over the years?
SM: The addition of the Big Ten Network has really changed our recruiting base. The additions of Rutgers, Maryland (and) Nebraska have opened the door to really expand your recruiting base, when a lot earlier on, before the expansion and before the network, I think we were a little more regional based with families and friends who watch us play. But now the door has really been opened. We have kids from New Jersey, California, the Czech Republic, a kid from Martinique that’s on our roster that will sit this year as an academic redshirt. And we have kids from Detroit, so it’s a unique blend of kids.
TMD: What have you learned from the recruiting process that you carry into every year?
SM: I think the recruiting process has changed a lot with social media. That’s probably been the most impactful situation, not only as a program where people can follow you as a fan base, but equally to have your recruits follow you, and it works vice versa. You have an opportunity to see what’s going on in their world and connect to them in ways we’ve never been able to do. That singlehandedly has changed everything. There’s no private spaces anymore. We know every visit they went on, who went with them, what time they got there, what time they left. It’s a lot.
TMD: What goals and expectations do you have for your team this season?
SM: Ours are always the same. We want to win the Big Ten first, that’s where you start things out, and for us we want to push and get an opportunity to reach a Final Four and a National Championship game. Every year, that’s where we start and where we want to finish.
TMD: What have you seen in the team this year that makes them unique?
SM: Last year we only had seven players, because we were so injured. I started two walk-ons and had five scholarship players left. It was a challenging year devastated with injuries. Now to have everyone back, plus the additions, I think we’ve added some much-needed depth at the point guard position, some much-needed depth in the post area. We’re big and athletic and can do some great things from a defensive standpoint that we haven’t been able to do last year. So to me, we have a lot of really good pieces. Now it’s just about having them play together and come together.