Last season, the Ohio State Buckeyes had a tough time against their enemies to the north, the Michigan Wolverines. In two games, the Scarlet & Gray were beaten handidly, by 19 and 18 points respectively. Ohio State got the last laugh, winning the regular season conference title when the Wolverines slipped at the end of the season. What should Buckeye fans expect from the Maize & Blue this year?
All last year, Ohio State had troubles adjusting to strong inside games, and now-WNBA player Naz Hillmon was one of the best in the country. Now that Hillmon is gone, do the Buckeyes have a chance to capitalize?
Land-Grant Holy Land: Of all the top teams in the conference last year, Michigan is one who had the biggest talent loss with Naz Hillmon moving on to the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. How does Michigan fill that giant loss?
Maize n Brew: Naz Hillmon is one of the best players to ever wear the Maize and Blue, so it will be hard to replace her. That being said, a lot of talent from last year’s squad is still here, including the guards.
Fifth-year senior Leigha Brown should have a bigger role after being injured a good portion of last year. Maddie Nolan is a great 3-and-D guard, and Laila Phelia really stepped up as the year went along as a playmaker for the Wolverines.
Forward Emily Kiser is also coming back for a 5th year, and she’s someone who will likely start in the frontcourt. Forwards Izabel Varejao and Cameron Williams also looked great in spurts and should get more minutes this season as well. In other words: will Michigan completely be able to replace one of the most dominant players in the sport last year? No. But they have a lot of talent from last year’s Elite Eight team, which is certainly encouraging for Michigan fans.
LGHL: This offseason, the Wolverines added one player in the transfer portal and have three incoming freshmen. Do any of those four have the potential to make an immediate impact, or is this a side who will lean heavily on upperclassmen?
MB: I’d think that of all the newcomers, guard Greta Kampschroeder should have the biggest impact. While her stats didn’t jump off the page at Oregon State last year (5.2 points and 2.5 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game), she is the first All-American transfer in Michigan women’s basketball history.
She was ranked 32nd in her recruiting class and showed all the tools to be a dominant scorer in high school. She’ll be a key piece for the Wolverines, as she’ll likely be one of their best three point shooters and ball handlers in transition.
LGHL: Last year, Michigan was close to winning the regular season conference title. They slipped up against Michigan State, Northwestern and finally Iowa on the last day of the season to give the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes a share of the title. Now, they enter the preseason ranked No. 25, and the media left them off their preseason conference rankings. Is the Wolverines’ move to conference underdogs fair? Is there still enough there for this team to compete with the Iowa’s and Indiana’s of the conference?
MB: Losing Naz is pretty detrimental to this team, but I’d expect to finish near the top of the Big Ten again. They don’t have the star power that Indiana or Iowa have, but they are an experienced team that has showcased excellent chemistry. It also needs to be pointed out that Kim Barnes Arico has become one of the best coaches in the sport, so with her at the helm, I’d expect the Wolverines to finish the season with a top-8 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They’ll probably slip a little in the Big Ten, but I can’t see them finishing lower than fifth or sixth.
LGHL: Finally, what are your way-too-early predictions on how far Michigan makes it in the NCAA Tournament?
MB: I would say that the Wolverines make the tournament and get eliminated in the second round. They have the depth, but they don’t have the star power to beat a 1 or 2 seed in the tournament.