The No. 8 seed Wolverines' Kim Barnes Arico and the ninth-seeded Wildcats' Harry Perretta will renew acquaintances in a first-round game Sunday night in Stanford, Calif.
Barnes Arico is in her first season with the Wolverines (21-10) but is fresh off a 10-year run with St. John's, where she guided the Red Storm to a regional semifinal appearance last year. Her tenure also included regular matchups with Perretta in the Big East, where Perretta's clubs held a 6-5 edge, though Barnes Arico won five of the last seven meetings.
That doesn't necessarily mean she's thrilled to match up against Perretta's unique, five-out attack that features a barrage of 3-pointers. Villanova makes an average of 8.3 shots from long distance per game, ranking seventh in the country. Seven players have made at least 20.
"It's kind of a bummer it's Harry and he runs that system," Barnes Arico said. "It took me a long time at St. John's to be able to beat them and be able to stop them."
But Barnes Arico does have the benefit of five seniors who also played in the tournament last year, marking the first time Michigan has made back-to-back appearances since 2000-01. The senior class is the school's first to record three 20-win seasons and includes three double-digit scorers - guards Kate Thompson (14.5 ppg) and Jenny Ryan (10.1) as well as forward Rachel Sheffer (12.7). Two other seniors - Sam Arnold and Nya Jordan - join that trio to account for 84 percent of Michigan's scoring this season.
"I think any time you can have experience it's just another benefit," Ryan said. "We have been there before. I think our senior class knows what it's like and hopefully having that game under our belts in the tournament atmosphere will help us out a little bit in the end."
But the team will need to snap the offensive slump it ended the season with. The Wolverines finished 2-4, averaging 53.2 points on 37.9 percent shooting in those games.
That could prove difficult against Villanova (21-10), which ranks among the nation's best in scoring defense allowing 52.3 points per game.
The Wildcats are making their first tournament trip since 2009 and hope to get leading scorer Laura Sweeney back on track after a concussion kept her out of the team's 61-56 Big East tournament quarterfinal loss to Syracuse.
The senior forward averages 13.9 points and is also the team's leading rebounder with 6.9 per game.
Villanova's best finish was a trip to the regional finals in 2003, while Michigan has never advanced beyond the second round.
Sunday's winner will meet top-seeded Stanford or No. 16 seed Tulsa on Tuesday.