Entering the 2016-17 season, the Michigan women’s basketball team had two goals. The first was to finish in the top four of the Big Ten standings for the first time in Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico’s tenure. The second was to earn its second NCAA Tournament berth in her five years in Ann Arbor.
On the conference standings front, the Wolverines (5-2 Big Ten, 16-5 overall) are right where they wanted to be. Michigan is currently third in the conference standings, behind No. 15 Ohio State and No. 3 Maryland. The Wolverines are half a game ahead of Northwestern and one game in front of both Iowa and Purdue.
Michigan — currently No. 35 in the Ratings Percentage Index — is also sitting pretty in its quest to crack the 64-team NCAA Tournament field.
ESPN.com’s Bracketology, which was updated Jan. 16, has the Wolverines as a nine seed playing California. The website College Sports Madness is even more optimistic about Michigan’s chances, giving it a No. 6 seed facing off against Oregon. Its chances are buoyed by the fact that it boasts four wins against teams ranked in the RPI top 100, a measure used to select tournament squads.
“I think this is our deepest team,” Barnes Arico said. “My first year, I was fortunate to inherit a group of seniors that had played together for four years, that were experienced and were hard workers. But they couldn’t score the basketball like this team can.”
The Wolverines’ success is in large part due to the emergence of sophomore center Hallie Thome and freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick, who have begun to complement junior guard Katelynn Flaherty’s scoring ability. The trio have been the key pieces in Michigan’s scoring offense, which is fourth in the Big Ten, averaging 79.7 points per game.
Flaherty was recently dubbed an honorable mention on the Big Ten Player of the Week list thanks to her 30 points in the Wolverines’ 93-80 loss to the Terrapins last Thursday and her 27 points in an 84-51 victory over Nebraska on Sunday. It was her fourth such honor this season.
“We’re fortunate to have Katelynn Flaherty in our program,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s an exceptional, exceptional scorer.”
Thome, meanwhile, has notched four double-doubles this year, while Gondrezick has scored at least 10 points in 14 of Michigan’s 21 contests.
“I think we’ve tried to, and we’ve improved on, sharing the basketball,” Barnes Arico said. “Making extra passes, taking high-percentage shots instead of the first shot. We want to get the best shot.”
The offensive firepower has not come at the expense of the defense, as the Wolverines are allowing just 58.5 points per game, good for second in the conference. Against the Cornhuskers, Michigan did not allow a field goal in the final 9:48 of the contest.
To be sure, the Wolverines’ season has not been one of perfection. They have lost all four games they have played against opponents currently in the AP top 25, none by fewer than nine points. Michigan will not face another ranked opponent unless it meets Maryland or Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, but that doesn’t mean the Wolverines have no opportunities to further their NCAA Tournament resume.
Michigan will face five more teams who currently sit in the RPI top 100, though none are above the Wolverines. Michigan’s best opportunity for another quality win comes in its next contest, Wednesday night against Northwestern, which is ranked No. 45 in the RPI.