A Slap in the Face
Michigan’s head coach Kim Barnes Arico was displeased after the NCAA Selection Committee omitted the Wolverines from their first top 16 reveal. Selection committee chair, Nina King, said, “We looked at Michigan but ultimately felt their body of work didn’t warrant a Top 16 ranking.” Barnes Arico said it was, “A slap in the face”.
Barnes Arico can be a bit sensitive about perceived NCAA snubs after the Wolverines were kept out of the 2017 tournament despite a 28-9 record (12-4 in the B1G.) Nevertheless, this year’s selection committee had a point. Michigan’s has played more games against the bottom of the B1G than against the top. When playing the B1G’s top teams, they had split with Ohio State, beat Michigan State and lost to IU. Covid wiped out some of the tougher bits of the Wolverine schedule. But they had a chance to redress the situation Thursday night against the unranked Hawkeyes.
First, the two teams waited out a five hour Covid protocol pause. The scheduled 3:30 PM match up commenced about 8:30 PM. Michigan should’ve just skipped the game and used the time to bus to Minneapolis-it was an Iowa City slap down and a long day in the gym for the Wolverines.
Naz Hillmon played well enough; 24 points and 8 rebounds in 35 minutes. But it was Caitlin Clark who played like the B1G Player of the Year with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists in 35 minutes. Clark was 7-12 from three. The Hawkeyes disruptive 2-3 zone paired with their three point shooting put Michigan down 25-10 at the end of the first quarter and 49-30 at the end of the second. Iowa was 10-16 from behind the arc in the first half and 16-27 for the game. Michigan was 4-19 from three. It wasn’t a fair fight. Iowa led 77-47 at the end of the third quarter and coasted to a 89-67 final. After suffering a beat down at Maryland, the Hawkeyes seem to enjoy administering one of their own. Michigan likely kissed a top 16 seed good-bye.
Michigan has dealt with other Covid pauses: two games were postponed in December and a more recent 14 day pause in late January and early February left 18 days between games. Being an experienced team with some very defined roles probably helped Wolverines effectively bridge the gaps.
The Wolverines starting five is virtually the same as last season’s starting five. Yes, they lack a true center; but, 6’2” forward Naz Hillmon certainly papers over that “lack”. Hillmon is chasing Iowa’s Caitlin Clark for the Big Ten Scoring title while leading the B1G in rebounding. She’s averaging 26 points and 12 rebounds per game. Her national presence was super charged by her superb 50 point outing against Ohio State. Five Thirty Eight did a little write up on Hillmon (linked below) which included shot charts. It’s safe to say, you can always find her under the bucket.
6’0” guard Akienreh Johnson, now in her fifth season of eligibility, is a solid two-way player. She permanently moved into the starting lineup last season after Kayla Robbins went down with an ACL injury. Johnson is Michigan’s third leading scorer and 2nd leading rebounder.
6’1” Senior forward Hailey Brown is the only player remaining from the Deja Church and Priscilla Smeenge recruiting class. (No, I don’t remember Smeenge; but she did play two minutes against Minnesota last year). Last season Brown was the Wolverines leading three-point shooter 37-100 (.370). That three-point touch has disappeared this season 12-45 (.267) but not the memory.
6’0” junior point guard Amy Dilk binds the Wolverines together. Since arriving in Ann Arbor, Dilk has started in all but two games. Last season she was the team’s 2nd leading scorer at almost 13 points per game. This season her scoring production has ebbed to about 8 points per game.
It’s safe to say that some of Dilk’s points have been absorbed by Nebraska transfer 6’1” junior wing player Leigha Brown. Brown was the perfect addition to the Wolverines starting five. The Auburn Indiana native, is averaging nearly 19 points per game and shooting .414 from beyond the arc. The one minus is that she sat out four conference games due to her own battle with Covid. Against the Hawkeyes, Brown scored 16 points (10-10 from the foul line); but Iowa’s zone never let her get into a rhythm.
The Michigan bench is useful; but not intimidating. The exception is 5’9” guard sophomore Maddie Nolan. Nolan has a few fill-in starts to her credit. She’s 11-34 from three. Five of those came in a 21 point performance against Wisconsin in the last game before the extended Covid break.
Minnesota entered Williams Arena on a three-game winning streak. A Wolverine 77-52 victory sent the Gophers spiraling into a regular season ending six game losing streak. Lindsay pretty much summed up the loss:
On Michigan’s size advantage:
“They’re big at every position and they’ve had a couple guys go down with injuries. Obviously (Naz) Hillmon is really good. (Amy) Dilk was hitting shots tonight and (Akienreh) Johnson has been playing really well as of late. I think with their size that they were able to clog the paint on offense. We only finished with 18 points in the paint and that was the difference. We had 18 points in the paint, and they had 44. Give them credit, they looked to her [Hillmon] early and often. They were able to play off of that, so give them credit.”
On Michigan getting open shots because of the focus on Hillmon:
“I should have changed some coverages on her [Dilk] before she got going. We were trying to pack it in because Hillmon is such a big deal, but Dilk has really improved. Not that she wasn’t a good player last year, but she has really come a long way with her jump shot and playmaking. We should’ve tried to get the ball out of her hands earlier, especially after she hit a couple. So, I’ll take that one for sure.”
Those are concerns to keep in mind for this year’s matchup because the Wolverines are the same except with one year more experience and with the addition of Leigha Brown. Sunday’s game is a focused test of what the coaching staff has learned.
The Wolverines were led by Hillmon with 21 points, Amy Dilk 22, Akienreh Johnson 12, Hailey Brown 8 and Maddie Nolan 5. The Gophers were led by Jasmine Powell with 20 points, Taiye Bello 13, Sara Scalia 8, Klarke Sconiers 4, Masha Adashchuk 7 and Gadiva Hubbard 0.
Five Thirty Eight Looks at Naz Hillmon
But the Hillmon we’re seeing this year is next level. She’s averaging 25.9 points per game, third in the nation, on 65.1 percent shooting from the floor. She scored 50 points in a game against Ohio State, including 31 in the second half, leading her coach, Kim Barnes Arico, to say this: “I’ve coached some really great players — really, really great players — in my time. No, I’ve never seen a performance like that.”
And no, this was not a one-off. If you wanted to generate a heat map representing dominance at the rim, it would look a lot like these from CBBAnalytics.
B1G Record: 8-3
B1G Wins: Wisconsin 92-49, @ Northwestern 84-63, Nebraska 64-62, Illinois 70-50, @ Wisconsin 69-40, @ Purdue 62-49, Michigan State 86-82, Ohio State 75-66
B1G Losses: Ohio State 77-81, @ Indiana 65-70, @ Iowa 67-89
Postponed: Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State, Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland
Naz Hillmon Last Six Games
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Ohio State 50 16 0 38 2 Purdue 21 10 0 37 3 Michigan State 31 7 1 33 4 Indiana 23 12 0 30 4 Ohio State 27 8 0 31 4 Iowa 24 8 1 35 2
Leigha Brown Last Six Games:
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Northwestern 22 1 6 37 2 Purdue 20 2 2 35 1 Michigan State 20 5 4 31 4 Indiana 19 5 3 39 4 Ohio State 11 7 2 36 2 Iowa 16 8 1 35 2
Probable Starters (B1G Stats):
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 6’2” F Jr Naz Hillmon 33.1 26.3 12.2 6’1” G/F Jr Leigha Brown 34.9 19.1 3.6 6’0” G GSr Akienreh Johnson 31.9 11.0 7.2 6’1” F Sr Hailey Brown 30.4 7.2 3.9 6’0” G Jr Amy Dilk 28.6 7.8 5.4
Bench (Big Stats):
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 5’9” G So Maddie Nolan 27.3 5.2 3.2 6’3” F Jr Emily Kiser 12.5 2.8 2.6 5’8” G Jr Danielle Rauch 12.6 0.3 1.4