At 2 p.m. on Friday, the eighth-seeded Michigan women’s basketball team will square off against ninth-seeded Kansas State in Louisville, KY. in an NCAA Tournament first round matchup.
This will be the Wolverines’ third trip to the tournament under coach Kim Barnes Arico, and their second in the last two years. Meanwhile, the Wildcats will see their third tournament appearance in the last four years, after missing the Big Dance last season.
Both Michigan and Kansas State put forth two of the hottest squads in the country right now — the Wolverines have won nine of their last 11 and the Wildcats have won eight of their last 10. However, there are a few major obstacles that Kansas State will present that Michigan will have to work around — the first of which being veteran talent.
“I think they’re very experienced,” Barnes Arico said Monday night after the tournament selection show. “Their roster is senior, senior, senior and maybe one junior or underclassman in the starting mix. So just an experienced group.”
The other potential challenge the Wolverines will have to deal with is the multifaceted defense the Wildcats run.
Kansas State often switches up its defensive schemes throughout games and plays quite a bit of zone — something Barnes Arico thinks her team will be ready for.
“We’ve got to prepare the next couple of days to face some kinds of defenses that we really haven’t prepared for,” Barnes Arico said. “So that will be our challenge in the next few days.”
In terms of the experience factor, Barnes Arico isn’t too worried, as she has her own senior leaders to help guide her team.
Senior center Hallie Thome and senior guard Nicole Munger have consistently led the way for Michigan throughout the season. And in what could potentially be the co-captains’ final game, they’ll both be expected to go just as hard and be just as vocal, if not more so, than they have been all year.
“I think (the seniors) have done, especially Hallie Thome, Nicole Munger and Sam Trammel, have done just a tremendous job with their leadership with the younger kids and set the example,” Barnes Arico said. “I mean Nicole every day at practice setting the stage of (bringing) the work ethic you need every day to be successful in this league and to be successful at the highest level.
“And I think at this point they have such a tremendous amount of respect, the rest of the team, for her and the seniors. They are putting everything on the line because they know survive and advance and they know we’ve got one more shot.”
Along with their seniors, the Wolverines will look to freshmen guard Amy Dilk and forward Naz Hillmon to make big plays Friday afternoon.
While they may lack experience in the national spotlight at the collegiate level, both Dilk and Hillmon have played in front of large audiences before — Dilk as Miss Basketball in Indiana and Hillmon as a starter for the USA under-18 national team — and Barnes Arico is ready for them to take on this new challenge.
“I think they live for this moment,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re a different kind of kid. They were born for this type of moment and they put themselves on the biggest stage their entire lives.
“… I think these two kids are dreamers and I think that they have the belief that they’re going to win championships in their time at Michigan. And they came here to prove that to the rest of the world, and they’re excited for that opportunity.”
With thorough preparation, strong senior leadership and skilled play from its freshmen, Michigan should be in good position to move on to the Round of 32.