This is not the same Michigan women’s basketball team from two weeks ago.
That Wolverine squad — shooting a lackluster 29.3% from behind the arc — lacked confidence from range. In its last three games — wins against Rutgers, Penn State and Maryland — Michigan has seen a dramatic improvement in perimeter shooting, going 26-for-50 from deep.
The recent influx of success from three could simply be an outlier. For a team that has struggled with 3-point shooting all season, this barrage appears to have materialized from nowhere and should, in theory, regress to the mean soon.
And it probably will.
Shooting 50% from three over an extended period of time is an unrealistic standard for any team. But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines are going to return to the worrisome inefficiency of weeks past.
The main reason for this is the emergence of junior guard Maddie Nolan as a premier sharpshooter. Not only is she a standout for the Wolverines, but also amongst the entire NCAA. Her 47.56% from deep ranks sixth in all of college basketball.
Heading into this three-game stretch, Nolan was enduring somewhat of a cold spell. But, her 41.7% from beyond the 3-point arc during that spell actually happens to be extremely efficient — for anyone not named Maddie Nolan.
“Nolan is certainly one that is always in the gym, is always putting in the extra work,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the Wolverines steamrolled Rutgers two Sundays ago. “So, anytime she shoots it, I feel like it’s going in. Just having the confidence to continue to do that is really important.”
In that win against the Scarlet Knights, Nolan showed why Barnes Arico has so much confidence in her. She made all four of her 3-point attempts, constructing a confident foundation for Michigan’s eruption to follow.
Building off her efficient showing against Rutgers, Nolan has shot 3-for-7 and 7-for-11 in the Wolverines’ previous two outings.
“She has the green-green light from me, but also from her teammates,” Barnes Arico said after Sunday’s win against then-No. 8 Maryland.
With a shooter as gifted as Nolan on the court, the floor is high for Michigan’s shooting as a team.
One good shooter isn’t enough to effectively space the floor. But luckily for Michigan, it has more — specifically, senior guards Danielle Rauch and Leigha Brown.
While Nolan has undergone a 3-point renaissance, Rauch has seen her numbers recede. After starting the season shooting a blazing hot 10-for-18 from deep, Rauch has since found the mark on just seven of her last 32 attempts.
While the Wolverines’ success from deep isn’t sustainable, neither are Rauch’s struggles. She’s more than capable of knocking down perimeter shots off the catch. The return of senior guard Amy Dilk will relieve Rauch of some of her ball-handling duties, resulting in more high percentage looks from deep for Rauch.
“Part of it is keeping your confidence, too, especially when you’re a shooter,” Barnes Arico said after Sunday’s win over Maryland. “You know, you miss a couple and then you’re questioning your every move.”
Brown is the most intriguing of Michigan’s shooters. She is an unquestionably elite mid-range shooter, with an arsenal that includes a variety of shots off the dribble and off the catch. That enabled Brown to assert herself as one of the most prolific mid-range scorers from the guard position in the country last season, despite shooting a relatively meager 30.8% from three.
This season she’s shooting a much improved 37.8% from behind the arc, including an impressive 7-for-12 in the Wolverines’ astonishing three-game stretch from deep.
Statistically, Michigan can’t continue its red-hot shooting spree. Nolan and Brown will inevitably come down from their 3-point highs.
But the mean for the Wolverines isn’t the pre-Rutgers drought of 29.3%. Michigan has shown it’s more than capable of punishing teams from behind the arc and has asserted itself as — at the very least — an average 3-point shooting team.
And when senior forward Naz Hillmon is lurking inside, perhaps average is all that’s needed to be great.