NCAA Women's National Championship: Tournament or Foregone Conclusion?
Despite the preeminence of the Baylor Lady Bears, and, much to the relief of UConn coach Geno Auriemma, the NCAA has decided to conduct its 2012 Women’s National Basketball Tournament after all.
As teams are wrapping up their seasons and gearing up for conference tournaments, the landscape looks much as it had looked eight weeks ago.
As the New Year dawned, 12 of the current Top 15 teams—eight of the Top 10—were in place. The other three ranked no lower than surprising Delaware’s No. 19. And the “Fabulous Four” of Baylor, UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford each just about paid off the mortgage on their lofty pieces of real estate.
March may be renowned for its insanity, but the only “Madness” to this tournament would be if three or even all four of these star-studded squads do not wind up in Denver on April Fool’s Day.
Using data that reflects play through Friday, Feb. 24, let’s take a numerical look at how these 15 outfits have navigated through the season to this point.
Perhaps we’ll stumble over a bit of insight along the way.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Since the elimination of the center jump after every score, basketball has been a sport of alternating possessions. After you score, your opponent gets the ball.
This equitable distribution of scoring opportunity, in one regard, makes basketball a rather simple strategic undertaking. Convert more of your scoring opportunities than the other team can, and you should win, right?
Let’s check the offensive and defensive efficiencies for our Top 15.
|Off. Eff.||Def. Eff.||Combined|
|3||Notre Dame (26-2)||.553||.641||1.194|
|8||Ohio St. (24-4)||.531||.561||1.092|
|11||Penn St. (22-5)||.509||.591||1.100|
|12||Wisc.-Green Bay (24-1)||.487||.623||1.110|
|14||Texas A&M (19-7)||.502||.584||1.086|
The combined offensive and defensive efficiencies seem to correspond reasonably well to the rankings. Wouldn't you say?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The tale of a basketball game is revealed by three box-score numbers: field-goal percentage, total rebounds and turnovers. A victorious team almost invariably earns a numerical edge (in the case of turnovers, naturally, fewer is better) in at least two of these categories.
With this tendency in mind, let’s next examine field-goal accuracy, offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover percentage.
|Ohio St.||.471||.380||.193||.658 (+215)|
|Penn St.||.438||.394||.201||.631 (+167)|
|Wisc.-Green Bay||.444||.345||.215||.574 (+203)|
|Texas A&M||.414||.466||217||.663 (+188)|
Once again, through another analytical lens, the same cream seems to be rising.
The “Fab Four” (plus one)
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Traditionally, an up-and-coming women’s basketball program has not officially arrived until they earn a spot on the University of Tennessee schedule. Three of the four top-shelf teams have squared off with, and beaten, Pat Summit’s scrappy but injury-riddled Lady Vols. (Wouldn’t it be fitting if UT and UConn meet in the NCAA’s in this of all years?)
This Fab Four plus one have conducted a mini-round-robin this season—UConn and Notre Dame square off one more time next week prior to the Big East Tournament.
Nov. 20: @Baylor 94 Notre Dame 81
Nov. 21: @UConn 68 Stanford 58
Nov. 27: Baylor 76 @Tennessee 67
Dec. 18: @Baylor 66 UConn 61
Dec. 20: @Stanford 97 Tennessee 80
Jan. 7: @Notre Dame 74 UConn 67 (OT)
Jan. 20: @Notre Dame 72 Tennessee 44
Let’s crunch the numbers from this set of games and see who shines in the elite company.
|Off. Eff.||Def. Eff.||Combined|
|Notre Dame (2-1)||.452||.561||1.013|
|Notre Dame||.414||.284||.218||.480 (+5)|
Finally, through this zoom lens. we're beginning to see some separation.
What Does the Abacus Reveal?
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
While the Big Ten (Ohio St.)—and especially the ACC (Miami, Maryland and Duke)—seem to be knocking on the door of greatness, don’t look for more than one interloper to be cutting down any nets at a regional final.
Baylor’s Lady Bears (pun definitely intended) stand head and shoulders above the crowd.
You just know that Geno is chomping at the bit for another crack at Kim Mulkey’s Marauders, and he’s positioned his team quite nicely for such a challenge.
The same can be said for Muffet McGraw’s Fightin’ Irish.
And Stanford Lady Cardinal senior Nnemkadi Ogwumike, probably the most athletically gifted player in women’s college ball, is capable of putting her team on her shoulders. She showed that while sinking 11 consecutive field goals in their come-from-behind victory over Tennessee just before Christmas.
What will happen on April 3 at Denver’s Pepsi Arena?
Brittney Griner will complete the first of two consecutive undefeated seasons as her Lady Bears knock off those pesky Lady Huskies more easily than they did in December.
As Poe, perhaps speaking on behalf of the month of March, once put it, “True! -- nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I have been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”