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Monday, October 21, 2013


(Part Two of a Series)

Basketball season is almost here for both men and women, and prospects for both teams look good at Michigan State. Tom Izzo's team is setting up for a peak season, while Suzy Merchant seems to be on the way to yet another 20-win season with an upper-echelon B1G finish and a ticket to the Big Dance.

The MSU women's basketball rivalry with Michigan has been lopsided to say the least, and it looks like the trend-line will continue on track for at least another season. The Spartans lead the all-time series by a margin of 62-16, with five players returning from a seven member playing group. We'll take a closer look at Michigan State next week.

Meanwhile, UM got that 16th win last season behind a six member playing group that featured five seniors. Those five have graduated, leaving Michigan Women's Basketball in a state of near-disarray under a second-year head coach. This year will be a gut-check for Kim Barnes Arico.

The Wolverine women's program hit a peak season last year in the same way the MSU Men are poised for a peak season this year. They won 20 games, beat Michigan State once in three tries by a single point, and went to the NCAA Tournament. All three of those accomplishments are rarities in Ann Arbor, but the new coach took the old coach's players and had a better year than the old coach. Just like they did in football.

Then they traveled to Europe, ostensibly to play basketball, but they had only three games, winning by scores of 102-34, 117-15, and 112-37. The games were against two teams called "Stella Azzurra" and "AMW France" that do not appear to exist on the Internet, and a third team simply called the "Italian All-Stars". Wow, what great competition, I'm sure they felt like basketball goddesses the whole time.

They will soon be dropping off a cliff into the reality of the upcoming season. Those five departed seniors were accountable for the following portions of these overall team statistics:
  • 68% of rebounds
  • 73% of minutes played
  • 75% of assists
  • 76% of steals
  • 77% of games started
  • 84% of points scored
  • 93% of three-pointers
  • 91% of blocks
It will be up to the ninth UM Head Coach to find starters at four positions and a backup for the fifth spot from a group of players with very little college experience. She will have about a month to cobble together some semblance of a team before heading into the conference schedule. Only three players return that played more than 24 minutes last year.

The key variables for Michigan will be three incoming freshmen, a transfer who is now eligible, and two players coming off of medical red-shirt seasons.

The injured players are Val Driscoll and Kendra Seto. Driscoll missed last year due to a knee injury. In two prior years, she played a total of 80 minutes, scoring 26 total career points. Seto is from Canada and transferred to UM from Vermont where she played as a freshman. She sat out a year, played one year in yellow-and-blue,  then missed last year due to injury.

The four newcomers all play guard. Paige Rakers is the tallest at 5'11" and comes in with insignificant credentials. Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams were ranked in the bottom half of the Top 100, and Shannon Smith transferred from North Carolina after winning Miss Basketball in the Tar Heel state coming out of high school. Three of those players have good potential, but only Smith will be a contributor this season.

Michigan will be hampered by several lineup problems:
  • To get a scholarship player taller than 6'1" on the court, they have either Driscoll (6-4), who didn't play last year, or Goree (6-3), who played only 24 minutes last year.
  • They have seven players listed as guards, four of them in their first year at UM, while their only returning starter is a guard. This leaves six players to fill one position, or they play a three-guard lineup and concede the front-court on a regular basis.
  • Plus the obvious problems listed above, such as losing 84% of their scoring and 77% of their starters, etc.
The latest news this month is the loss of sophomore forward Kelsey Mitchell for three to five months with a foot injury. Mitchell was Miss Basketball runner-up two years ago, but didn't play last year due to injury. She averaged nearly a double-double in three European "games" in August, but has yet to play in regulation competition for UM.

Just as last year was an "up season" for Michigan Women's Basketball, so will the upcoming season be a "down season" for the ladies in yellow and blue.

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