Though last weekend’s opponents, Binghamton and Detroit, didn’t pose much of a threat to the Michigan women’s basketball team, a much deeper Xavier squad certainly could.
After an exhausting two games in two days, the Wolverines (2-0) had the chance to regroup, watch film and prepare ahead of their most difficult test yet.
“They’re pretty deep, and that is something we haven’t faced in the first two games,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico in a WTKA interview on Tuesday. “I think we wore the opponents out in the first couple games, because we kept rotating in and changing defenses. (Xavier) goes 10, 11 deep.”
The box score from Xavier’s 65-57 win against Evansville reveals that wide distribution of playing time. Eight different Musketeers played more than 15 minutes in their season opener, compared to just seven for Michigan against Detroit. But while 10 of Xavier’s players contributed to the scoring, only one put up double digits.
Xavier guard Raeshaun Gaffney scored 18 points in her first game after transferring from Virginia. She is the team’s best weapon, but Xavier will need more than a single source for scoring, or else the Musketeers will have a high mountain to climb to get past a Michigan team that had four players reach double digits in each game.
Led by freshman center Hallie Thome and sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty, the Wolverines have cruised in their previous outings, winning by scores of 90-62 and 88-61. Feeding the 6-foot-5 Thome in the post continues to be a successful tactic, and her 21 points and three blocks in Detroit prove she is shaping up to be a valuable addition.
Both games’ second halves featured Michigan continuing to expand on early leads, which allowed Barnes Arico to bring in players who typically won’t see game time down the stretch. As a result, it’s difficult to perceive how deep Michigan actually is. Regardless, it has played like a talented, well-rounded group, despite the guard-heavy lineup.
Nine of the roster’s 14 players are guards, but so far there hasn’t been any special emphasis on a four-guard system, or really any system for that matter.
“When we sub, we really don’t lose anything,” Barnes Arico said. “Sometimes we change our defenses at that point as well. We’re kind of like a football team right now, where we have different packages depending on who’s going into the game. We’ve had a press package, a three-quarter court package, full-court press, a half-court man defense.”
Changing the defense on the fly appears to be Michigan’s greatest strength. After initiating the full-court press during the second quarter against Detroit last weekend, the Wolverines forced four turnovers in three minutes to build an 11-point lead.
After that game, Barnes Arico mentioned that picking starters is often a game-time decision, calling it a “battle” for the five spots.
“If you look at the box score, about 10 kids play the same amount of minutes,” Barnes Arico said.
Nonetheless, Xavier can likely match Michigan well in this department.
The Wolverines’ early success may be boosted by weaker competition. In both games, they looked flustered at times, clearly not playing their best.
It’s far too early to make any claims about this Michigan team, but if it pulls off another landslide victory against Xavier, a clearer picture for the season might start to take shape.