The NCAA Tournament is just around the corner, and on Monday night the Michigan women's basketball team (21-11 overall, 11-7 Big Ten) will find out if it will receive a second consecutive bid.
Last season, the Wolverines got what they wanted, reaching the tournament for the first time since 2012-13. The season before, they expected to earn a spot but ultimately did not. Still, the Wolverines went on to win the WNIT.
Heading into the previous selection shows, those Michigan teams each had 22 wins under their belts. This year’s group has 21, yet it’s in a better position to get a bid — and to actually do something with it — than past groups.
Why? Because this team is trending up.
“I definitely think this team is going in a positive direction,” said senior guard Nicole Munger, before Tuesday’s practice.
And there is evidence to prove it. Michigan has now won nine of its last 11 games, dating back to the start of February. In the final 11 games of the past two years, the Wolverines had secured just six and seven wins, respectively.
“Not to dwell on past years too much,” Munger said, “but there was a different feel around them.”
That different feel is in part due to fewer losses in this final stretch. But the losses also appear to be more quality defeats. This team’s two recent losses came against Michigan State, over two weeks ago, and against No. 8 Maryland, Saturday night in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
In East Lansing, the Wolverines fell 74-64 in a game they could have easily won, if they hadn’t committed 25 turnovers and given up 27 free throw attempts. That said, some credit should be given to the Spartans, which had been a quality team that had spent considerable time in the top 25.
The defeat against the Terrapins, too, had some positives. Michigan entered that game as the clear underdog, but came within arm’s reach of reaching the program’s first ever conference tournament final, eventually falling 73-72.
“(The Maryland game) is something to be proud of,” Munger said. “We were down ten going into the fourth quarter. I think what’s most important is the team fought. We didn’t roll over and die, and we could have done that a couple times throughout the game. And they made their runs but we fought right back. I think that just goes to show that we know we can play with anybody, and I think we’re really excited for that.”
Saying this year’s team trends up more than past groups isn’t an aside to those teams. The differerent iterations of the Wolverines found success at different moments in the season, too. It’s difficult to make sure everyone is healthy and harmoniously at the peak of their game heading into tournament time. However, timing can pay dividends and Munger takes note.
“I think timing is everything,” Munger said. “ … And this team, like I said, it’s just very confident moving forward and I think that’s what makes a team very dangerous to play. When a team is feeling really good, playing with nothing to lose, that’s really tough to beat. So, it’s exciting going into the final few weeks.”
Assuming Michigan does make the tournament, it has just over a week before it starts. Munger mentioned taking care of the basketball and defensive transition as two areas the team hopes to sharpen during the break. It’s important for the Wolverines to maintain the momentum during the downtime. If they do, they could ride the upward trend when it matters most.
“I think we’re lucky that we have this week,” Munger said. “ … We’re focusing solely on what we can do and what we can do better, and that’s pretty exciting going into the ‘final season’, as we call it, of the full season. It’s gonna be an exciting time and I’m excited to see what improvements we can make moving forward.”