On Monday night, the NCAA Tournament bracket will finally be unveiled, as the 64 of the nation's top teams will learn their destination in the NCAA Tournament, while others will be forced to watch the action unfold from the sidelines.
The Michigan women’s basketball team (3-6 Big Ten, 21-11 overall) can rest a little easier than normal. After a loss to Michigan State dropped its Big Ten record to 3-6 and 12-9 overall, a tournament berth seemed like a pipe dream.
But following a white-hot February that saw the team go 6-1, the Wolverines are sitting pretty for a likely tournament berth and a resume that includes wins over conference stalwarts Iowa and Indiana and a neutral site victory over Missouri in November. While Michigan fell in heartbreaking fashion to No. 8 Maryland in a 73-72 defeat last Saturday in the program’s first Big Ten semifinal appearance, its current status should be enough to propel it to the Big Dance.
“Timing’s everything, and I think where this team’s at right now we’ve had big wins in the season,” said senior forward Nicole Munger. “We’re winning games down the wire now, and this team’s just very confident now moving forward.”
Currently, ESPN’s Charlie Creme has Michigan slotted as a nine seed. While that may seem like a comfortable cushion, the Wolverines are wary after missing out on the tournament two seasons ago despite being projected to make the field in Creme’s final bracket.
“A couple years ago we thought we were in and we didn’t get in,” Munger said, “so this is gonna be a long week waiting and just thinking what could be and what’s gonna happen going forward.”
While the week will be a long and stressful one, Michigan plans to use its week off to put in extra work to ensure that it’s up for the task should its name be called on Monday night.
“We’re lucky that we have this week,” Munger said. “We don’t have to prep for anybody else; we’re focusing solely on what we can do and what we can do better.”
While Munger played on last year’s tournament team, freshman forward Naz Hillmon is in uncharted waters. Hillmon, who said that she’s been watching the tournament since she was young, is ready for the opportunity to play for a title.
“A lot of freshman don’t get that opportunity,” she said. “I’m just really excited to go up against some more great competition.”
Added freshman guard Amy Dilk: “All 14 of us are committed and know our role. So I think all of us are just really determined and playing as a team with confidence.”