Though the Michigan women’s basketball team will miss the Big Dance for the third year in a row, the Wolverines won’t end their season without a chance to hang their first banner.
Monday night, Michigan earned a spot in the 64-team field of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament for the third year in a row. The Wolverines will host Wright State on Wednesday night at Crisler Center.
With a win, Michigan (9-9 Big Ten, 17-13 overall) would move onto the second round this weekend to face the winner of Bucknell and Akron, which will be decided Thursday.
The 2016 WNIT bid marks the Wolverines’ seventh straight berth into the postseason, a program record. Michigan ended the regular season by winning five of seven games with its two losses coming at then-No. 6 Maryland and at Rutgers.
The Wolverines’ best chance at making the NCAA Tournament came down to them winning the Big Ten Tournament, but those hopes disappeared when Iowa handed Michigan a first-round loss in Indianapolis — the second year in a row that the Wolverines were sent packing on day one.
Michigan is now in the postseason with another opportunity to win a championship. Last season, the Wolverines made a run into the WNIT semifinals with then-freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty leading the team in points and former forwards Cyesha Goree and Nicole Elmblad and former guard Shannon Smith collecting 59 percent of the team’s boards.
Michigan hosted UCLA at Crisler Center last spring and nearly pulled off a win to play in the championship, but the team made a few critical errors down the stretch to lose by just four points.
This year, though, the Wolverines may be in an even better position to win the WNIT. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, the only coach in program history to be in the postseason in each of her first four seasons, is more than equipped to take her team all the way to the finish.
Barnes Arico helped Team USA win the gold medal at the FIBA U19 Championship in Russia this summer, and worked with some of the top talent in the country. When she got back to the United States, she was still working with top talent in Flaherty, who is averaging 22.6 points a game, and freshman center Hallie Thome, who is dominating under the basket.
Success from the dynamic duo of Flaherty and Thome will be key for the Wolverines to make a run as deep, or deeper, as they did last season in the WNIT.
As for the fate of Michigan’s Big Ten opponents, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Rutgers made the WNIT. Eastern Michigan also earned a spot in the field, which brings the Wolverines’ record against WNIT teams they’ve faced this season to 4-5.
The women’s NCAA Tournament bracket was also released Monday night, and six of Michigan’s previous opponents got in: No. 2 seed Maryland, No. 3 seed Ohio Sate, No. 4 seed Michigan State, No. 9 seed Indiana, No. 11 seed Purdue and No. 11 seed Princeton. Against those teams, the Wolverines went 1-7 in the regular season.