The women's basketball team will be starting their 18 game conference season on the road against Michigan. Conference season in the B1G is always tough, especially on the road. I have a lot of concerns for this upcoming game. Yes, Purdue has come out of the non-conference season better than most expected with a 9-2 record, and against some pretty stiff competition along with some mismatched opponents. However, that was then and this is now.
This game will show our team how far we have come this season and prove to be a real test. While the B1G women's basketball conference is not quite as tough in some ways as the volleyball conference (not as many highly ranked teams), the competition is not that far behind. This is not the B1G of even 10 or 15 years ago. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the competition level took a serious notch up. Also, some of the lower tier teams have hired really good head coaches and all of the teams have had success recruiting. It may be a cliche, but there are no easy games in B1G women's basketball. Simply put, playing on the road in conference can be brutal. With the exception being the top two teams in Maryland and Ohio State, for the rest of the conference it is possible for anybody to beat anybody else.
Is our team scared or intimidated? No. Purdue has shown themselves to field one of the best team defenses in the conference. However, the offense has been up and down. Yes we have some reliable shooters in Wilson, Morrissette, and Perry, but shooting for the rest of the team has been somewhat inconsistent. Well, Michigan has a whole bevy of excellent shooters. Their entire team is averaging 51% overall field goal shooting for the season so far, which has to be leading the Big Ten. They have offensive weapons galore.
First is sophomore guard Katelyn Flaherty. She has simply lit it up so far, having already made 31 3-pointers and averaging over 21 points per game. Her counterpart is super frosh 6'5" center Hallie Thome. The two of them have already established themselves as and inside-outside threat, especially considering they are a freshman and a sophomore. Thome, the 2015 Miss Ohio Basketball award winner, is averaging 12.1 points per game. She really garnered some national attention, though, when scoring 24 points along with grabbing 7 rebounds against a tough UCLA team that has a lot of height to contend with. Her consistency is not quite there, but she looks to be a tough matchup for most of the centers in women's college basketball as a true freshman. Purdue is going to have to really cover these two players or it will be a long afternoon. Yes the game starts at 1 PM. What is going to be especially challenging, is that we will not be afforded the luxury of double and triple teaming Thome because of a roster loaded with excellent outside shooters. All three of our centers, Thornton, Horrocks, and Keisler will need to really blanket this player and keep her from getting the ball deep in the post. So our forwards and guards are going to have to help out by keeping the ball from reaching Thome in the first place. Yes, we do have a very disruptive defense, probably the toughest Michigan has played against so far. But if there is one thing UConn has taught us, defense alone will not win many games. While Uconn plays out of this world defense, in the end they just score in bunches and none of their opponents, including even ND, Maryland, and Ohio State, have been able to keep Uconn from running up the score. That scoring threat of Michigan is why this game concerns me.
As alluded to already, though, it isn't just a two man game with Flaherty and Thome. Michigan has some more excellent shooters in Madison Ristovski, Nicole Munger, and Siera Thompson. Most likely Coach V will be mixing up defenses between various zones and man-to-man to try and keep Michigan well below their scoring average of 82 points per game. Purdue just may be up to the task, as we have kept some high scoring teams well below their season average, such as against Stanford and Dayton.
Once Michigan hired Kim Barnes Arico as head coach, who is now in her 4th season, Michigan has won at least 20 games all three seasons of her tenure. She is a very good coach with a good staff as well. She took an average at best St. John's team and put them on the map before taking her current position. Now she is having similar success at Michigan.
While Michigan's offense is getting most of the attention, they are also going about their business on the defensive side as well, limiting opponents to an average of less than 60 points per game. They also average almost 10 steals per game. Maybe I have painted too bleak of a picture. However, this is an opportunity for Purdue to go up to Ann Arbor and pull out a quality road win. No one can fault the effort or conditioning of our Boilers this year. They will play hard and fast, with very tenacious defense. The biggest question, though, is can we outscore Michigan with all of the offensive weapons they possess? We nearly did it against Stanford, a team fairly loaded with good shooters. But that was on a neutral court. In fact, Purdue has only played one true away game so far this season at North Florida. The rest of the games were either at home or on a neutral court.
Yes this is a winnable game. Michigan has lost three out of their last 4 games, to Princeton, UCLA, and a head scratcher to Eastern Michigan in their latest outing. While none of these teams are ranked, I would say they most likely are all good teams. Yes, Purdue is a good team as well. If this game was at Mackey, I would be predicting a win for Purdue. However, in a hostile environment against a well-coached team loaded with great shooters, I am predicting a close loss.
Prediction: Michigan 70 - Purdue 65.