Stanford Cardinal vs. California Golden Bears Statistical Preview: How Can Cal Pull Off An Upset?

C&R of the Stanford Women's Basketball Blog and Norcalnick of California Golden Blogs have already done a great job of previewing this afternoon's Cal - Stanford game with their two-part Q&A (Part 1 | Part 2).

The Big Game is obviously a big game for Bay Area fans but this edition is made even bigger by the fact that the Golden Bears (6-2) are currently second in the Pac-12 conference standings to the mighty Cardinal (8-0) - an upset this season would not only mean bragging rights in a heated rivalry, but also giving themselves some sliver of hope for actually keeping pace with the conference juggernaut.

Alas, this game didn't get a television slot, but I'm headed to Maples Pavilion to watch the game today so I wondered: how exactly might Cal pull off an upset? While the Q&A's already addressed using the Tonya Harding strategy, I turned to the statistics to take a closer look at that question.

Stanford Cardinal: Are there any weaknesses?

In the context of Pac-12 play, you don't really talk about Stanford in terms of "weaknesses" but "lesser strengths". For Stanford, those lesser strengths are things that you might attribute to perimeter play: turnover rate and free throw rate.

Team eFG% Tov% OReb% FT Rate
Stanford 50.4% 16.9% 44.2% 24.3%
Opponents 34.4% 20.0% 29.0% 26.3%
Differentials +20% -3.1% +15.2% -2.0%

Four Factors stats for Stanford as of 1/27/12.

Now let's be clear here: Stanford is not a poor ball handling team by Pac-12 or national standards - they turn the ball over significantly less than average (Pac-12 avg: 21.6%, national avg: 23.9%). But if you want to take a page from both Connecticut and Tennessee, who gave Stanford trouble in different ways, applying pressure to their ball handlers and trying to pick up the pace and force turnovers could be a formula for success.

A similar point lies in the fact that Cardinal opponents get to the free throw line more often than they do - guards are able to beat Stanford's perimeter defenders and when that happens, yes, they can get free throw attempts. However, this is not exactly a "problem" either - Stanford is such an efficient scoring team and dominant rebounding team that giving up a free throw every now and then is really not gonna kill them. And seeing as how Cal only shoots a conference-worst 61.4% from the line anyway, it doesn't look like that would be a formula for success for them.

So what's more interesting in this game is the competing strengths.

California Golden Bears: Can Cal control the boards against Stanford?

Cal is second in the nation in rebounding and first in the conference during conference play. Of course, Stanford is second. So something has to give there.

Team eFG% Tov% OReb% FT Rate
Cal 44.6% 22.4% 46.7% 36.0%
Opponents 36.8% 22.0% 25.1% 26.3%
Differentials +7.8% +.4% +21.6% +9.7

Four Factors stats for Stanford as of 1/27/12.

Just as norcalnick said, the numbers suggest that Cal relies heavily on their rebounding prowess to win games - it's a dominant strength, but it's also a singular dominant strength. It would seem unlikely that they'd come into Maples and dominate the boards as they've done to everyone else. But an upset bid would almost certainly have to start there.

X-Factor: Brittany Boyd

The other thing that stands out in the numbers is that Cal is turnover prone and that could certainly be attributed to having a freshman point guard along with a team that struggled with ball handling before her arrival. Boyd is averaging just over 5 turnovers per game in losses and about half that in wins.

But Boyd is also an outstanding playmaker for a freshman point guard and her ability to get the ball to her teammates exactly where they need it is a major, major difference for Cal this year. Their high-low play can get predictable at times, but Boyd's ability to break down her defender and get into the paint can cause problems for opponents. Defensively, she's not exactly a slouch and her strong build and quick hands could give any ball handler problems.

As much as Cal's strength is on the boards, if they want an upset they're going to need a superlative game from their freshman point guard in her first game at Maples.

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