MINNEAPOLIS — Last season, the Michigan women’s basketball team was among the top paint-scoring teams in the nation. This year, that may not be the case.
With the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Naz Hillmon, moving on to the WNBA, the Wolverines aren’t looking to replicate her prowess in the paint. Instead, they’re focused on finding success elsewhere, utilizing the skill sets of the players who remain — and taking advantage of an influx of talented outside shooters.
“Last year, we were actually number one in the country in points scored out of a post touch,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said Wednesday at Big Ten Media Days. “… This year, way different than last year, we’re gonna shoot the basketball.”
That shooting won’t just be coming from returners at the guard position, but from players up and down the roster as well. The Wolverines are returning four of their top five 3-point shooters, with senior guard Maddie Nolan expected to continue her dominance from behind the arc. Last season, Nolan shot 40.5% from deep, sinking a team-high 68.
In addition to Nolan, fifth-year guard Leigha Brown and fifth-year forward Emily Kiser are both expected to be major offensive contributors once again this year. As the second and third highest scoring players last season, respectively, they will anchor this team’s new offense — one that is very suitable to each of their styles of play. Brown is known for her ability to score and create opportunities for herself and her teammates, and Kiser is a strong rebounder who can also knock down outside shots.
Brown and Kiser were both quick to gush about the shooting ability of their new teammates, too. Sophomore guard Greta Kampschroeder, a transfer from Oregon State and a McDonald’s All-American in high school, has already earned the admiration of her teammates and coach.
“Her court vision is really, really good,” Brown said. “And she’s been able to really knock down the three consistently throughout practice.”
The ability of a guard to knock down an outside shot is important, but not unexpected. Post players’ ability to do the same thing, however, opens up new possibilities for an offense. Freshmen forwards Alyssa Crockett and Chyra Evans highlight those possibilities and have both impressed teammates with their diverse skill sets.
“(Evans is) such a smart player… her IQ is insane. And honestly, her court vision too, to be able to pass as a post player is huge,” Kiser said. “And then Alyssa, once again, super high IQ. And then her ability to knock down shots from the 3-point line, to be able to spread the floor.
“The ability for our four and five to be able to shoot the ball, I think will help us a lot.”
In addition to their outside shooting abilities, the freshmen round out a roster that’s poised to play a quicker, more guard-dominated game. But Michigan is excited for the opportunity to create a new system around its players, despite the necessary changes and challenges it will bring.
“We’re gonna be feisty, we’re gonna be scrappy, we’re gonna play with fire and with passion and have fun,” Barnes Arico said. “But I also think we’re gonna be up-tempo, we’re gonna be fast, we’re gonna shoot a lot more threes than we traditionally have. We’re gonna be playing through our incredible guards, different than we have in the past.”
That new reliance will fall on the shoulders of younger players, too. Sophomore guard Laila Phelia was a significant contributor last season and looks to take on an even bigger role this year. Additionally, freshman guard Kate Clarke has impressed her team with her work ethic and mindset in practice, providing even more support for the position group that’s going to have to reach new heights in order for the team to live out its vision.
This increased offensive reliance on guards will be new for the Wolverines, but not new to the conference. Iowa guard Caitlin Clark — Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year — lit up Michigan for 84 total points in two matchups last year. In addition to the Hawkeyes’ guard-heavy play, many of the other top teams in the conference run their offenses through the backcourt, something the Wolverines are accustomed to dealing with.
“We’re probably going to play four guards, which is going to be fun because a lot of teams in our league do that,” Barnes Arico said. “So we just gotta make sure that we’re rebounding and we have an edge to us.”
To continue its crescendoing trajectory, Michigan isn’t trying to duplicate its same play style again this year.
Instead, the Wolverines are hoping to shift their approach and beat their opponents at their own game.