The schedule makers didn’t take it easy on the Michigan women’s basketball team.
A heavily front-loaded Big Ten schedule — with the toughest games in the first half of the conference season — has put the Wolverines (5-7 Big Ten, 13-10 overall) in a hole that may not be indicative of how good they actually are.
Currently in 10th place in the Big Ten, Michigan has just six games left to boost its standing ahead of the Big Ten Tournament.
One of those games is against Maryland, the No. 6 team in the country, but beyond that, the Wolverines still have matchups against opponents like Northwestern, Wisconsin, Penn State and Rutgers, which are all below or even with Michigan in the conference standings.
The remaining game pits the Wolverines against Purdue. The Boilermakers opened up the Big Ten season in Ann Arbor on Dec. 31, narrowly leaving Crisler Center with a win after hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer in the last six seconds. Michigan had the chance to tie it from the line, but freshman Boogie Brozoski hit only one of three free throws.
Michigan’s two best players, sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty and freshman center Hallie Thome, both said Sunday that they were looking forward to finishing this campaign strong, touching on its importance leading up to the postseason.
“I’m excited to try and play Maryland again,” Flaherty said. “Rutgers, going home is always fun. Purdue, we lost in the last second. Each game, I think we can win every single game we have left, and I think if we do, it will really be a turning point with us.
“I think we really could win the Big Ten Tournament, and I think it’ll come down to if we go in there with momentum.”
Maryland, of course, is the toughest opponent left on the schedule, but even in the Wolverines’ seven-point loss back on Jan. 14, they hung around until the Terrapins sealed it with free throws late in the game.
On the road, there’s no question it will be a tougher matchup, but there is still no reason to believe Michigan couldn’t finish out the Big Ten with a winning record.
The Wolverines don’t have to worry about Ohio State, Nebraska or Michigan State until they potentially meet these teams again in Indianapolis the first week of March.
“Our schedule, the first half, was a tough one,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “But we don’t want to look past any opponent.
“We try not to emphasize (the schedule) too much, because we don’t want them to think that anything is easy. So this part is not easy, I mean, because just how could you lose on any given night … So the kids know, they read (the Daily), they read the paper and they read the Internet. They know who’s really good and who’s not, but I don’t emphasize that too much.”
The Big Ten Tournament begins March 2, when the four lowest-ranked teams in the conference play each other for the chance to advance to the next day. Michigan stands ahead of that pack for now, and over the next three weeks, it will do everything it can to separate itself even further.