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The Stanford Strategy: The O's and Who Knows - Can It Work Against Tennessee?

The duo of Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike are the stars of Stanford. But can they do it alone?
The duo of Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike are the stars of Stanford. But can they do it alone?

I've grown to love the Ogwumike sisters in the three live games I've seen of them while in the Bay.

They're hard to look away from, and hard not to notice on the court. Heck - even when they're on the bench, my eyes have been diverted in large part to the presence of Nneka and Chiney. As great as "The Sisters" (as I heard Tara VanDerveer refer to them) are, Stanford - the team - concerns me.

And particularly when looking ahead to Tuesday's game against Tennessee.

In the three games I've seen vs. UC-Davis, at Fresno State and against Princeton, the O's have accounted for a combined 115 points and 67 rebounds. In three games. The rest of the team has accounted for 156 points and 93 rebounds.

The Ogwumike's are shooting 46-of-68 or 67.6% in these three contests. The rest of the team is 55-of-133 or 41.3%.Nneka and Chiney have 33% of the Cardinal's rebounds.

Were it not for these two, could these other 11 players stack up against the Princeton Tigers of the world, who really gave Stanford a run for their money particularly in the first half? How about the Lady Vols of the world, who come into Maples Pavilion on Tuesday night? This is where the concern comes from.

The Tree without even one Ogwumike spells trouble with a capital T.

Yes, Tennessee has a pair of great scorers and rebounders in Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson who account for 37.7% of the Lady Vols offense. They make up 35.8% of Tennessee's rebounding over the course of this season. Through nine games, Stricklen or Johnson have led these categories 10 of 18 times for the Lady Vols. Taber Spani, Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick, Alicia Manning, Meighan Simmons and Vicki Baugh have all been a team leader on at least one occasion. When Stricklen and Johnson are not on point, someone else seems to take their spot.

In Stanford's seven games, Nneka or Chiney have led the Cardinal in points and rebounds 13 of 14 times. Against Old Dominion, Lindy LaRocque led the team in scoring (15 points) and Jocelyn Tinkle tied Nneka for top rebounding honors vs. UC-Davis (9 rebounds). Stanford has lost only once, against UConn. In that loss, Chiney had a dismal shooting game, accounting for seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. The sisters combined for 50% of Stanford's offense, even with the poor game from the youngest sister and pedestrian game for the eldest.

After the win against Princeton, the Stanford coaching staff took time to talk to the fans of the Stanford Fast Break Club and others who were milling about in the arena. Associate head coach Amy Tucker talked about the Cardinal lineup. She was quick to say the team was trying new lineups and looking at multiple players to fill the role of point guard, the 2 and the 3. She joked that the team was "pretty solid" with "those two" playing the 4 and 5. You and I both know who "those two" are.

Tara VanDerveer was honest to say Stanford needs more contributors if they are going to reach the levels that everyone dressed in red wants them to achieve this year and beyond. She described her senior O sister, Nneka as, "a woman with girls out there". That much is obvious to anyone who's seen the Cardinal play, especially when you see them in person. The question at hand is who else will blossom into a woman this season under VanDerveer's tutelage - who will be a leader that doesn't have a last name that begins with "O"?

The answer looks murky, says my magic 8 ball.

Jocelyn Tinkle has the size, but doesn't seem to always have the presence. Bonnie Samuelson has the pinpoint 3-ball, but is more of a specialist than a generalist. Jasmine Camp and Amber Orrange can speed down the court and break a press, but sometimes make understandably unwise freshman decisions at the point. Toni Kokenis, Lindy LaRocque, Taylor Greenfield and the Sara(h)s (Boothe and James) can show spurts of superior play, but can't always sustain. Erica Payne has a bulldog mentality, style and personality, but is hampered by a bulldog stature too, needing just a little bit more height to go with her bite.

On Tuesday, in order to beat the Lady Vols, it looks like someone on the Stanford squad might have to prove my observations from a small cross section of basketball completely wrong.

Or, as has been the case for the duration of this early season, it will be the Ogwumike's game to win or lose.