With the NCAA’s announcement that the women’s basketball season will begin in late November, Michigan is eager to begin the new season. Having finished seventh in the Big Ten last season, Michigan has a lot to prove if it wants to show that it can be a contender in the conference.
The Wolverines have areas to improve on in the upcoming season if they wish to rise from relative mediocrity to the top of the conference. The Daily breaks down three of the weaknesses that Michigan struggled with last year.
It’s simple: The Wolverines need to stop losing possession of the ball. Michigan had 15.9 turnovers per game last season — placing it second to last in the Big Ten.
If they continuously turnover the ball, the Wolverines will begin to dig themselves into holes that they have no reason to be in at all. Of their 11 losses last year, six games were lost by less than 10 points. One of those games was against Notre Dame, who outscored Michigan 32-9 in points off of turnovers, on their way to a 76-72 victory.
Notre Dame was not just an off-day for the Wolverines, either. In its 66-60 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament last season, Michigan was outscored 15-3 in points generated from turnovers. The Wolverines have to hold onto the ball if they want to win games.
The turnovers lead to another problem: The Wolverines didn’t spend enough time in possession of the ball. Michigan was also second to last in the Big Ten in possessions per game, averaging 68.9 possessions. Simply put, it’s hard to win games when your opponent spends more time controlling the ball.
The low number of possessions is caused by a slow pace of play rather than issues with rebounding. Last season, the Wolverines had a plus-7.8 rebound margin on the season. Increasing the speed of play and aggressiveness on offense might be the push Michigan needs.
Despite the low number of possessions per game, the Wolverines were very efficient with all the scoring opportunities they created for themselves, having the fourth most points and field goals made out of the Big Ten. If it can maintain its efficiency on offense while increasing its number of possessions, Michigan will be a much harder team to beat.
Big Defensive Plays
Plain and simple, Michigan struggled to make big plays on defense last season. The Wolverines’ opponents consistently out-stole and out-blocked them. Michigan averaged 6.9 steals per game compared to 8.3 steals per game by its opponents — which equated to 45 more steals, or 45 more opportunities for the opposing team to score points. If the Wolverines can be more methodical and strategic on defense and make more plays, they can cut down opposing scoring opportunities and increase their own.
Additionally, blocks are an area where Michigan can improve. The Wolverines ranked 12th out of 14 teams in blocks per game, averaging 3.1 blocks compared to a 4.0 blocks per game average by all opposing teams. If Michigan can create more opportunities to block shots and put more pressure on shooters, close games might go differently for the team than they did last year. Utilizing taller players like 6-foot-4 sophomore center Izabel Varejão and 6-foot-2 junior forward Naz Hillmon on defense as interior defenders can create the needed pressure and opportunities to block shots.
The Wolverines have all the tools they need to succeed in the Big Ten and the NCAA tournament, where they haven’t made it past the second round since 2013. Their roster is full of returning players like junior guard Amy Dilk and graduate student Akienreh Johnson, both of whom will bring valuable experience to the court. New freshmen like Whitney Sollom have lots of potential and Michigan has an experienced coach in Kim Barnes Arico who has had enough time in the program to establish her culture.
Now, more than ever, it’s time for the Wolverines to put it all together.