Before previewing the matchups for the 2012 NCAA women's Final Four in depth, a look at the statistics for the four participants.
A few notes before the notes:
- These are pre-tournament numbers, so their rankings may have changed during the tournament.
- Most of these statistics are direct from WBBState.com. The only one that isn't is offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate.
- Click here for a description of what those Four Factors numbers mean and how they might be interpreted.
- The "weights" for those differentials are described here.
- Team names are linked to Queenie's Dance Cards with great overviews of the teams.
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- What should immediately stand out about UConn is their defense - this is among their best defensive teams statistically in years, which is a major part of their success this year.
- However, along with the stifling defense, it's worth noting that they're not stopping teams with a whole lot of turnovers, despite a healthy differential - although that opponents' turnover rate of 27% puts them in the top 30 in the nation, their ability to hold opponents to a shooting efficiency of 29.90% is far more impressive.
- If there's a strength that other teams in the Final Four could take away, it's probably rebounding - UConn lost the offensive rebounding battle in losses with both Baylor and Notre Dame (the second one) this season (click here and here for the WBB State boxscores). They won the rebounding battle in their win against Stanford, but both Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike were limited by foul trouble.
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- Notre Dame is a different type of defense than Baylor or Connecticut: they force turnovers. That 30% turnover rate by opponents is among the top 10 in the nation.
- People talk a lot about Notre Dame's execution and ability to score offensively, but their offensive rebounding differential is impressive for a team that often gives up a height advantage. Devereaux Peters is clearly a large part of that, but when you look at their roster it's their guards doing work on the boards as well. Their ability to rebound might just epitomize how well they play as a unit.
- But naturally, their size can present problems against bigger teams and it's no surprise that offensive rebounding was the most significant culprit in their three losses as well as a close win against Duke.
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- There's a lot to be said about Baylor and it generally starts with 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner's impact. Where that shows up here is in the free throw rate column: Baylor opponents get to the line less than any of the teams above and Griner's presence is a major reason for that. She not only blocks shots, but so many teams refuse to even venture into the paint against her that they don't get those free throw opportunities.
- Similar to UConn, but much, much more so, they're a defense that gets the job done without necessarily forcing a ton of turnovers - Griner is so good on the interior and Sims so good on the perimeter in bothering opposing ball handlers that teams just struggle to find a rhythm against them.
- But if there's a weakness for Baylor, it's that narrow turnover margin - they have struggled (and lost) turnover battles in close games against athletic guards, including the games against Connecticut and Notre Dame, the first one against Texas Tech, and their Elite Eight win against Tennessee. They're much better on the ball handling front than last season and a large part of that is Sims' improvement. However, if a team can find a way to limit Griner's touches and collapse on her as she receives the ball, they can commit turnovers as a unit. That's just a big "if".
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- Obviously, I'm most familiar with Stanford. And if there's anything that stands out about them it's their improvement over the course of the season, highlighted by the play of two individuals in particular. That might not have changed the outcome against UConn, but looking over the numbers from that game highlights some of the major changes.
- With the Ogwumikes limited due to foul trouble, Joslyn Tinkle played 8 minutes, 0 points, and 0 rebounds. To make a long story short, that tied a season-low, the least number of minutes she's played in 2012 is 16, and she's played over 30 minutes in 9 of Stanford's last 14 games. Let's be real - part of that is just Stanford playing in a few blowouts. However, as a bigger part of Stanford's rotation generally, Tinkle is showing vast improvement as an interior player both in terms of rebounding and scoring.
- Amber Orrange only played 6 minutes against UConn and although she's been somewhat erratic throughout the season, she really blossomed at the right time for Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament championship game against rival Cal. Shannon Cotterel has said literally all season (and maybe even last summer while we were watching the SF Pro Am) that Orrange would be the x-factor for Stanford's success this season and I think her vast improvement as both a decision-maker and distributor is a big difference that make it hard to look back to non-conference play to evaluate the Cardinal.
- So along with Orrange's improvement, comes another key point about Stanford. Traditionally - highlighted by last season's Final Four loss to Texas A&M - teams have been able to press Stanford to take them off their game. Having Orrange improve so much as a ball handler makes that even more difficult than it was when I last looked at five reasons why teams have struggled to press Stanford earlier this season. Bear in mind, it's not that teams can't press Stanford - and I wouldn't expect Notre Dame or UConn, in particular to shy away from it - it's that Stanford makes it very hard on opponents to do so.
- Still that relatively narrow turnover margin could be considered a concern for Stanford - a team that can take them out of their rhythm and force turnovers as UConn did could give Stanford major trouble. They're such an efficient offense though that most teams struggle to accomplish that, but these are rather elite defensive teams that join Stanford in Denver.
- If there is a strength that these opponents could take away it's that shooting efficiency and while the UConn game is an example of that, I'd also point to an ugly, ugly game against Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament. Let's not read too much into that though: that was just a bizarre game and could probably be left at that. Nevertheless, in two games against ASU, Stanford shot 37-for-108 (34.25%) and it wasn't necessarily that ASU shut down the Ogwumikes - they shut down everyone else; the Ogwumike sisters had 26 of those 37 made field goals. A similar narrative could be ascribed to the overtime win against Cal at Maples, when Nneka Ogwumike was sick and the team shot 3-for-20 from the 3-point line. Stanford is not going to shoot so poorly that often - they had numerous open shots against Cal that didn't go down and you have to watch an ASU game to understand what happened there. But if the players around the Ogwumike sisters go cold, Stanford could struggle.
For our full coverage on the 2012 NCAA women's tournament, visit our "NCAA Tournament 2012" section.