The ball danced around the rim for a few moments before falling out of the cylinder and landing harmlessly on the floor as the final buzzer sounded. The game had been decided by only one point. This was the scenario that played out for the Michigan women’s basketball team in each of its last two games, against Purdue and Northwestern, respectively.
The Wolverines (11-5 overall, 2-2 Big Ten), though, were on different ends of the spectrum in each of those games. Against the Boilermakers, Michigan watched as its final shot failed to fall while, against the Wildcats, the Wolverines watched with the same helpless feeling as, this time, their opponent’s shot rolled out of the rim.
Despite being picked to finish third in the Big Ten in the coaches’ preseason vote, Michigan now sits in a three-team tie for sixth place through the first four games of conference play. One reason for its current record is because of trends like this one: One day the ball rolls the way of the Wolverines while the next day it goes the opposite direction.
With two conference home wins and a pair of losses at Purdue and Nebraska, Michigan’s play in the Big Ten has so far been a microcosm for their season performance as a whole.
There have been flashes of brilliance, like its thrashing of Missouri and No. 18 Minnesota, and moments of disappointment, like the Wolverines’ back-to-back losses against No. 8 NC State and No. 15 Marquette as well as that heartbreaking loss to the Boilermakers last Saturday.
Yet, one thing that Michigan has consistently done well is defend its home court. The Wolverines are 7-0 at home this season compared to just 4-5 when they are away from the Crisler Center.
“We really challenged ourselves in the offseason against some great competition,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We went on the road and we’ve been on the road, we’ve had a lot more road games than home contests, in preparation for the long haul; in preparation for the Big Ten Tournament; in preparation for the NCAA Tournament.
“What we have found is that taking those bumps and losing those games (is) tough, but now we came out with a couple of really good wins. So those games have prepared us and are (continuing to) prepare us.”
Of the Wolverines’ 14 games remaining, half are on the road while the other half will take place in Ann Arbor.
If its current trajectory continues — winning its remaining home games and losing its remaining road games —Michigan will finish 18-12. That will almost certainly not be enough come NCAA Tournament time, barring a Big Ten Tournament championship.
Midway through the season, Barnes Arico has taken away the positives from her squad’s road performances thus far and is hopeful they can turn it around.
“I think the way our league has gone so far has kind of showed us that, ‘Hey, we can have a night where we’re not happy with the outcome, but we can’t put everything on the outcome of the game,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “If we are continuing to improve, then we are going to be a great program down the stretch.”
The Wolverines continue Big Ten play this Saturday as they travel to College Park to take on No. 9 Maryland with the hopes of earning their first road win of the long Big Ten season.