When Michigan heads to Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday to face No. 13 North Carolina State, there will be plenty of storylines to watch for.
One storyline pits the youth of the Wolverines (5-1) against the experience of the Wolfpack. Michigan — which features just three upperclassmen in its regular rotation — relies on youth, balance and depth to dismantle opponents. NC State (6-0), meanwhile, uses experience, efficiency and high-volume scoring from its players, as it has only three underclassmen in its regular rotation.
This matchup will be the Wolverines’ first time in a hostile road environment this season, and it remains to be seen how the young squad deals with intense noise and pressure, which is something it will see more of come conference play. Michigan did travel to Kalamazoo earlier this season to take on Western Michigan, but the Broncos averaged a mere 679 fans per game last season. The Wolfpack, on the other hand, averaged 2,500-plus fans last year.
Despite the age and experience gap between the two teams, as well as the road environment, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico is not worried about her freshmen.
“I think (freshman guard) Amy Dilk has been waiting for this opportunity her whole entire life, … as did (freshman forward) Naz Hillmon,” Barnes Arico said. “Our other freshmen, I mean the opportunity that they have every day in practice to go against some of the best players in the country really prepares them.”
Another storyline to keep in mind will be the battle on the boards. Both teams have dominated the glass thus far in the season and have yet to be outrebounded by their opponent in a game.
The Wolverines have outrebounded their opponents by an average of over 16 rebounds per game, while NC State has out rebounded its opponents by over 11 rebounds per game, good for the eighth- and 26th-best rebounding margins in the nation, respectively.
Michigan, which will take on its third ranked team in a four-game span, will also look to senior center Hallie Thome to step up and lead the team.
Thome, who averaged over 21 points on 70-percent shooting in 22 minutes over the first three games, has struggled since the competition heated up. Over the course of the three game Gulf Coast Showcase, Thome averaged only 10.3 points on 48-percent shooting in nearly 29 minutes.
In addition to heating up on the offensive end, Thome will have her hands full on defense with her matchup against Wolfpack freshman center Elissa Cunane. Despite averaging just 20 minutes per game, Cunane has scored 13.3 points on 61-percent shooting in her six games thus far.
Still, Barnes Arico remains undeterred, preaching total confidence in her players and knows that all of Thome’s hard work will pay off in the end for the Wolverines — regardless of the stats next to her name in the box score.
“(Thome) has continued to work and work and work for an opportunity to be the best player she can be, but also for an opportunity to help the team be the best team that we can be,” Barnes Arico said. “I think she continues to work (hard) and … she just sets a great example every day.”