Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media.
Nobody will question that the biggest games on the west coast this week involve Stanford, with anticipation for UConn's visit on Thursday only heightened with their blowout of Xavier last night.
But the game I've had circled on my calendar all season is today's meeting between Gonzaga and Notre Dame at KeyArena in the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic. And the reason might be obvious to some.
Seattle University | Notre Dame-Gonzaga women's game features marquee point guards | Seattle Times Newspaper
Two of the nation's top point guards face off in Notre Dame sophomore Skylar Diggins and Gonzaga senior Courtney Vandersloot, who starred at Kentwood High in Covington.
"It's a marquee-type of matchup and it's a shame it's not on TV because I think the nation would enjoy seeing those two go at each other," said McGraw, 55. "Courtney's just a phenomenal passer. You can get caught ball-watching when she's out there. We're just trying to figure out a way to play good defense, and that's been a struggle for us at times."
This may well be the best game of women's college basketball in Seattle this season and as Jayda Evans suggests in her article it deserves more attention, starting with the Diggins - Vandersloot matchup. So a preview of the tournament has to start there, but the following also includes statistical strengths and weaknesses as well as key players beyond the top scorers for each team.
Game 1: Notre Dame vs Gonzaga, 4:30 PM PST
Gonzaga Bulldogs (10-3)
Statistical strength: shooting efficiency (52.45% effective field goal percentage vs. opponents' 41.27%)
Statistical weakness: free throw rate (22.61% free throw rate vs. opponents' 31.71%)
Key player: Courtney Vandersloot, G (5-foot-8, Sr.)
People can try as hard as they want to argue that someone other than Vandersloot is the top distributor in the nation, but it's difficult to do so convincingly for anyone who has watched her in person, as McGraw alluded to in Evans' article.
Vandersloot averages 9.7 assists per game, which is obviously outstanding as she leads the nation in assists per game. But what's amazing is that Vandersloot gets those assists so efficiently. Vandersloot creates an assist on 34.09% of her possessions while only turning it over on 10.82% for an amazing pure point rating of 10.60. Add to that a true shooting percentage of 55.75% and you have easily one of the most lethal ball handlers in the nation - if she isn't passing, she can take the initiative to score and do so efficiently.
#16/14 Notre Dame (9-3)
Statistical strength: shooting efficiency (52.53% effective field goal percentage vs. opponents' 38.92%).
Statistical weakness: free throw rate (37.69% free throw rate vs. opponents' 33.08%).
Key player: Devereaux Peters, F (6-foot-2, Sr.)
Although he focal point of this game will be on battle of the guards, Notre Dame actually has an advantage on the boards and Peters is a major part of that. Peters averages 5.3 rebounds which is second on the team and she is a solid offensive rebounder getting 14.60% of the available offensive rebounds per game, which is better than any Gonzaga rotation player.
While Notre Dame will have to contend with Vandersloot, Gonzaga will have to keep Notre Dame off the boards.
Game 2: Seattle University vs. Loyola Marymount University at 7 p.m. PST
Loyola Marymount (5-7)
Statistical strength: ball control (19.16% turnover percentage vs. opponents' 21.53%).
Statistical weakness: shooting efficiency (39.45% effective field goal percentage vs. opponents' 46.08%).
Key player: Camille Buckley, F (6-foot-1, RS Fr.)
Buckley only plays 19 minutes off the bench, but she's the team's strongest rebounder by percentage when she does - she gets a team-high 18.06% of the available offensive rebounds when she plays and also has a team-high defensive rebounding percentage. Her 60.41% free throw rate is also impressive and shows that she's capable of finding points off the bench as well.
Seattle University (4-9)
Statistical strength: ball control (22.26% turnover percentage vs. opponents' 25.46%)
Statistical weakness: shooting efficiency (38.61% effective field goal percentage vs. opponents' 47.74%)
Key player: Salena Dickerson, F (5-foot-11, Sr.)
What makes Dickerson so valuable to the host Redhawks is her rebounding. What she might lack in size and strength in crashing the boards, she makes up for with athleticism and strong instincts - she's second on the team in both offensive and defensive rebounding by percentage and certainly adds quite a bit to the unit outside of that.
Seattle U turns the ball over a bit more often than Loyola Marymount, so the game could actually be won based upon who can find a way to overcome their shooting struggles as well as who can hold onto the ball more often.