The Wolverines are officially going dancing.
Nine days after the Michigan women’s basketball team bowed out of the Big Ten Tournament with a semifinal loss to Maryland, the Wolverines secured their second-consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
“You never want to take for granted the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It’s always a special day. It’s like Christmas in March. It’s a great honor to be selected. It’s great for our seniors but really for our younger kids to have this experience.”
As the No. 8 seed in the Albany Region, Michigan will face Kansas State in the Round of 64. The two teams will meet on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Wildcats’ season followed a similar trajectory as the Wolverines’. Not only do both squads enter the tournament with a 21-11 record and finished fourth in their respective conferences, but Michigan and Kansas State both went on late-season runs to cement their postseason resumés. The Wolverines won eight-of-nine to finish out the regular season, while the Wildcats ended on a five-game win streak — punctuated by a season sweep of powerhouse Texas.
“They had some great wins through the course of the year and had a really strong finish,” Barnes Arico said. “I don’t know when the committee was going through that if they thought, ‘These are two teams that finished strong, it would be a great first round matchup,’ but they seem very similar to us.”
Receiving an at-large bid was not a surprising outcome for Michigan, but the team was blindsided by ESPN prematurely displaying the bracket three hours ahead of schedule.
“Right when practice ended we talked at the circle,” Barnes Arico said. “I said ‘There’s been a leak but there are so few surprises in your life, so if you guys can wait it will be fun to hold out.’ That being said, obviously everyone went to their phone, so by the time we got to our little party, everybody already knew.”
If Michigan gets past Kansas State, it will likely face No. 1 seed Louisville. At 29-3 overall, the ACC runners-up are one of the tournament favorites. Adding the Cardinals’ home-court advantage to the equation means the Wolverines would be playing the role of underdog in that matchup. The teams’ most recent meeting — in November 2017 — ended with a 25-point win for Louisville.
Before it can think about a potential Sweet Sixteen run though, the Wolverines must focus on the game at hand. Michigan has played its best basketball of the season as of late, but with almost two full weeks between the Big Ten Tournament and Friday’s game, the team might struggle to continue their recent momentum.
Nevertheless, the Wolverines seem ready for the challenge.
“Our kids really have a belief that they can play with anyone,” Barnes Arico said. “When you’re going into the NCAA Tournament, you kinda have to have that belief in yourself and your teammates. We’re feeling pretty confident right now.”