The predictions I make in this series will not qualify me as the next Nostradamus. I'm only saying that things will return to normal in the basketball rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan, beginning next season, specifically in the women's games.
No big surprise to pick MSU over UM in women's basketball, eh? After all, the Spartans hold the all-time series lead (62-16) and have won 21 of the past 23 rivalry games. Suzy Merchant is 13-2 against the Wolverines. We could go on-and-on with these kind of statistical comparisons. (And we will.)
But the Blues Sisters actually found a way to beat our Green Goddesses last season, a one-point win at the Crisis Center, then took a 20-win record into the Big Dance and actually won a game. So some people, at some point, will start the talk about the "rise of Michigan Women's Basketball" under their new head coach, and eventually how "the tables are turning" and so forth. Same as we hear about their men's team.
So let's squash that propaganda campaign before it has a chance to get started.
I pointed out in Part One of this series how challenging last season was for the Spartan Women, besieged by injuries throughout the year, losing three players for the season, and another one at the end that I didn't even mention (Akyah Taylor). Yet Coach Merchant still led her troops to a 25-win season, a third-place league finish, an appearance in the conference tournament final game, and a second-round run in the NCAAs. Sounds a lot like what George Washington did at Valley Forge.
I described in Part Two of this series how the Michigan Women rode their five-member senior class to one of the best seasons in their dismal history, including the first win against MSU in four years. And how they did it the right way, with actual college students playing all four years, led by Jenny Ryan, a great player who would have fit right in wearing green-and-white, but chose otherwise.
I'm saying now that the trend-buck stops here.
Here's a quick look ahead at what we know about the basic on-court match-ups between the two teams for next year, minus much detail about several players on both teams who haven't played enough (or at all) to discuss:
This is where the Wolverines are weakest, with only two players over 6'1", neither of which has ever started a game. Val Driscoll (6'4") comes off a medical redshirt season after scoring 26 points her first two years as a deep-bench backup. Cyesha Goree (6'3") will look for her first starting assignment after scoring 23 points in two years. No freshmen are on the way to help.
For MSU, three veterans return to fill the lane, Juniors Becca Mills (6'4") and Jasmine Hines (6'3") along with Senior Analise Pickrel (6'3"). Hines is a wide-body who played in all but one game last year, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds per game. Mills started 28 games, scored nine and rebounded four, and hit nearly 33% of her three-point attempts. Pickrel played 29 minutes per game, scoring nine and rebounding four and leading the team in three-point shooting at 37%.
This looks like a game-long mismatch in favor of the Green team, especially considering that Madison Williams (6'7") may be able to contribute something on the court after her injury rehab.
Michigan brings a trio of guards with experience, Nicole Elmblad, Brenae Harris, and Madison Ristovski. Elmblad started all but one game, but averaged only four points and two assists. Harris and Ristovski were seventh and eighth in minutes played, but each scored less than two points per game. The Wolverines will rely on freshmen at these positions to back up the returnees.
The Spartans feature Senior Klarissa Bell and Junior Kiana Johnson, with backups Camille Glymph, Branndais Agee, and Aerial Powers. Bell led the team in scoring, rebounding, minutes played, and was third in assists. Johnson was third in scoring, second in assists, second in steals, and third in minutes played.
Agee is the Top 50 player who was sidelined by injury last year, Powers is the 6'0" Top-100 player who also lost last year due to injury, and Glymph is the Auburn transfer who was ranked #52 by ESPN coming out of high school. And Tori Jankoska joins the team after scoring 30 a game as a high school senior last year on the way to winning Miss Basketball in the State of Michigan.
MSU looks strong at the guard rotation, with two proven veteran leaders backed up by four promising newcomers.
BENCH & UNKNOWNS:
Left unmentioned for Michigan State were 5'11" guard Mariah Harris, who played very little as a freshman after winning Player of the Year in Ohio Division Two in high school and getting a #44 national ranking. Also coming off the bench for MSU will be Akyah Taylor, a 5'11" forward who was named first-team all-state in Indiana as a high school senior.
UM has a highly ranked freshman guard who missed the season with an injury. Michigan's recruiting class contains four guards, including three under 5'9", leaving gaping holes in the frontcourt and inexperience coming off the bench.
For UM fans who have accused me of "lacking logic" in my articles: Read it and weep. The future seems clear for the women's basketball rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan.
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