ANN ARBOR — The last time Kim Barnes Arico spoke to reporters at Crisler Center, it was after Michigan had earned a spot in the Sweet 16 in March. She was back on Tuesday (Oct. 25) to preview the upcoming season, one she hopes she will prove that Michigan’s recent success is sustainable.
The Wolverines reached the Elite Eight for the first time in program history last year, staying with No. 1 seed Louisville until the final minute.
A couple of weeks before the regular season begins, Barnes Arico shared her thoughts on her team.
“What a great career for Naz Hillmon,” Barnes Arico said during her opening statement. “I know we’ve talked about that over and over and over again. But we are in the post-Naz era now. And actually, I’m really excited to talk about that.”
Hillmon was indeed the No. 1 topic of discussion at Big Ten media day earlier this month. But, as Barnes Arico said on Tuesday, “We have some really special pieces returning.”
Guards Leigha Brown (fifth-year senior), Maddie Nolan (senior), and Laila Phelia (sophomore), and forward Emily Kiser (fifth-year) will likely start. Aside from Hillmon and another outgoing senior, guard Danielle Rauch, those four played the most minutes for Michigan last season.
Phelia is especially intriguing after coming on strong late last season. “She She’s so dynamic,” Barnes Arico said. “She She can affect the game in so many ways.”
Michigan added Oregon State transfer Greta Kampschroeder, a sophomore who was a former McDonald’s All-American, and Barnes Arico has talked up senior guard Michelle Sidor as a potential breakout player. Junior forward Cameron Williams is a former five-star recruit who was Hillmon’s little-used understudy the past two years.
In other words, the cupboard is not bare.
Without Hillmon, Michigan will give opponents a different look than in recent years. Barnes Arico said Michigan will shoot (and make) more 3s than ever.
“We have some really great scorers from the outside. I think we’re going to open up the floor a little bit more and try to get driving lanes, try to get drive and kicks for 3s, try to make up for some of our offensive rebounding, the things that Naz did.
“I don’t know what that means in terms of actual wins and losses. But we will be a fun team to watch. We will be a team that is going to shock a lot of people (with) our success.”
Barnes Arico, who’s entering her 11th year at Michigan and 26th as a college head coach, said she never spends much time looking at her team’s schedule in advance.
“If I did look at the schedule I would, like, actually get a stomach ache and want to throw up,” she said. “I’ve probably asked the staff a number of times, ‘When’s our first game? Who do we play first?’ As it gets closer I’ll obviously zoom in.”
She is aware of the marquee nonconference games, and mentioned them on Tuesday, such as the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte, North Carolina. The two-night event features a doubleheader each night with women’s and men’s games. The Michigan women play North Carolina on Dec. 20 and those schools’ men’s teams play the following night at the Spectrum Center.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for all of you and all of our fans and our alums around the country to attend two great basketball games,” Barnes Arico said.
Michigan is also set to play in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida, from Nov. 25-27, provided the damage from Hurricane Ian allows it. The Wolverines will fly back to Ann Arbor only to return to Florida for a road game at Miami on Dec. 1 as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The Big Ten, meanwhile, is loaded. There are six Big Ten teams in the preseason AP top-25, more than any other conference. Iowa business No. 4, along with Indiana (No. 11), Ohio State (14), Maryland (17), Nebraska (22), and Michigan (25).
To answer the questions Barnes Arico has been asking her staff, Michigan opens at home on Nov. 9 against Delaware State.
One of the last questions Barnes Arico fielded on Tuesday was about her rookies. “I was hoping somebody would ask about our freshmen,” she said. “Thank you so much. I’m so excited to talk about them.”
Kate Clarke and Alyssa Crockett hail from Indiana, a state Barnes Arico has mined for talent often during her Michigan tenure. Both players are big guards — Clarke is 6-foot-1; Crockett is 6-2 — though Barnes Arico said Crockett has played more as a face-up power forward so far in practice. Both players shoot the 3 well and can handle the ball.
“They haven’t had many tough freshman days, so to speak,” Barnes Arico said. “Sometimes freshmen don’t pick things up as quick and you have to go over it again and again and again in practice.” That hasn’t been the case with these two.
Crockett is ranked as the No. 48 players in the 2022 class according to ESPN; Clarke is No. 99. How much they’ll play this season given the experience Michigan has at their positions remains to be seen.
The third freshman is Chyra Evans, a 6-foot-2 post player from Australia with professional and FIBA experience. She can shoot and has great footwork, Barnes Arico said. Evans arrived at Ann Arbor later than her teammates due to her national team schedule. “But she has an incredible future in our program,” Barnes Arico said.
something to prove
Barnes Arico pointed out that Michigan ended last season ranked seventh in the final coaches’ poll, released after the NCAA Tournament. And yet the Wolverines didn’t appear on certain preseason rankings over the summer. In the official preseason AP poll, Michigan snuck in at No. 25.
“That’s a big drop,” Barnes Arico said. “A lot of people on the outside are saying, ‘Naz Hillmon is no longer there. Michigan women’s basketball can’t stay at that level of play.’ For the players in our program, that’s really a challenge. That’s something that, every day, excites us. … We have something to prove, we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”