After nearly 800 days since the last March Madness, the dance is set to begin once again — and in a position Michigan has never been in before.
This year, the No. 6 seed Michigan women’s basketball team will face No. 11 seed Florida Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines’ No. 6 seed is the best in program history — not much of a surprise after a record-setting season. Michigan started on a 10-0 run, the first in program history. Junior forward Naz Hillmon set a school-wide record with her 50-point performance against Ohio State. The Wolverines will look to set another record during the tournament: advancing beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time.
But first, they’ll have to beat the Eagles. Florida Gulf Coast won’t roll over in the first round. In only their seventh tournament appearance, the Eagles want to solidify their name as a contender in women’s college basketball.
The Daily breaks down what Michigan will need to accomplish against Florida Gulf Coast to make it out of the first round.
Florida Gulf Coast’s offense revolves around 3-point shooting. The Eagles have attempted 1001 3-pointers this season, more than anyone else in the entire NCAA. For reference, Michigan has attempted only 326 shots from behind the arc. Averaging 11.9 made threes per game, Florida Gulf Coast shoots 33.37% from behind the arc.
Three-point defense has been a struggle for the Wolverines all season. This was particularly obvious against Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, who went 7-for-12 from three in the Hawkeyes’ win over Michigan. Containing long-range shots will be key for the Wolverines as it’s the main focus of the Eagles’ offense.
“I knew they would be an incredibly difficult opponent,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said in a press conference after the selection show. “Their coach is well known for the system that he runs.”
Containing Sophomore Guard Kierstan Bell
Bell is an all-around athlete on the court. Standing at 6-foot-1, she’s a tall guard, able to defend opposing teams’ post players in the paint. But, her most impressive feature is her offensive production. Ranked fifth in the country for points per game, she averages 24.3 points. Like the rest of the offense, her home is the 3-point line, and she ranks third in the country in 3-point attempts.
An Ohio native and a transfer from Ohio State, Michigan has played Bell multiple times. In her first game against the Wolverines last season she scored 15 points — Ohio State’s second leading scorer of the night. As a freshman at Ohio State, she led the team in 3-pointers, just as she does this year at Florida Gulf Coast.
“(Bell’s) an Ohio State transfer, she’s an Ohio kid,” Barnes Arico said. “Most of our players have grown up either playing with her or playing against her. She was one of the highest, most highly decorated kids coming out of the state of Ohio in recent years, and she’s a tremendous basketball talent. Just a kid that can do it all. She’s a point guard in a post player’s body, so she can play any position one-to-five. She’s definitely a difficult matchup.”
Finally, Florida Gulf Coast has all the momentum coming into this game. Coming off a 25-game win streak and an ASUN conference tournament, the Eagles are hot. Led by guard Tishara Morehouse and Bell, Florida Gulf Coast has recorded its best regular-season performance in program history — a performance they’ll look to continue in the tournament.
On the flip side, Michigan has lost four of its last six games — including losing its first game in the Big Ten Tournament to Northwestern. Plagued by issues with offensive production, the Wolverines will need to turn it around in order to avoid a repeat performance of the Big Ten Tournament.
“It’ll be exciting to get to work and start really working on how we’re going to defend (against) Florida Gulf Coast,” Barnes Arico said. “And what we need to do to be successful against a great opponent like them who’s won 25 straight games.”
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