WHY CONNECTICUT WILL WIN
There’s obvious, mostly past-performance stuff (like, last season stuff) that predicts a Husky victory. Start with the 86-game winning streak, and counting; work backwards to the four national championships in a row; dig a little deeper, and realize the Huskies lowest finish since the 1999-2000 season was a Sweet Sixteen berth during the 2004-05 season.
List off players like Tina Charles, and Maya Moore, and Breanna Stewart; point out that Connecticut women’s basketball is the only other program with eleven national titles besides John Wooden’s mid-1900s UCLA teams. Connecticut has the full weight of history, the full weight of media love, and the unimpeachable confidence of knowing something good is coming around the corner.
They also have strong stats in the analytics department. They score over a point per possession, at 1.096, good for 13th in the nation. They give up 0.774 points per possession, which comes in at 30th in the nation. They have an effective field goal percentage (a stat that takes into account that three-pointers are worth more) of 55.4%, a number that puts them sixth in the entire country.
But look up those stats on your own (use wbbstate.com, they’re dope [it’s not like you have a choice, frankly. In a world of growing basketball mania, they are one of the few great sites that give a darn about advanced women’s stats, which is a real shame and a real credit to those who run the site]).
You’ll notice that not only does Maryland outstrip them in all three stats I quoted above (plus a few others), they do so in many cases by wide margins. So, why the confidence from me, aside from all the nonsense about history and intangibles that I was selling above?
My primary reason, despite the numerical evidence to the contrary (numerical!), is simple: Connecticut has played the second-most difficult schedule in the country, (beating Notre Dame, who has had the toughest), and Maryland hasn’t.
The cumulative winning percentage of the teams on UConn’s schedule is 75%; they sit atop the RPI rankings (a statistic that uses DI winning percentage [25%], schedule strength [50%], and opponent winning percentage [25%] to help properly assess teams), while Maryland is all the way down at 23rd. Maryland’s opponents have a winning percentage of 49%. Not great!
WHY MARYLAND WILL WIN
Maryland will win because holy crap, they really do outstrip UConn in basically every advanced stat. It’s kind of hilarious how much higher they are in some of them; in defensive effective shooting percentage, for example, Maryland is 27th, and the Huskies aren’t even in the top fifty.
Maryland turns the ball over around 15% of the time, a mark that slots them in at 25th in the nation; UConn, once again, isn’t even in the top fifty. The Terrapins force turnovers roughly 24% of the time, 29th in women’s basketball; UConn (SURPRISE!) once again failed to crack the top fifty teams.
Maryland, 7th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage; UConn, not in the top fifty. Maryland, 9th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage; UConn, not in the top fifty. Am I getting my point across?
Even taking into account strength of schedule, these are gaps that can’t be ignored. Sure, Connecticut is undefeated, and sure, they’ve played a banner schedule; but if something smokes long enough, it’s probably on fire. It’s not the Terrapins fault that their schedule is bad; all they can do is play, to the best of their ability, and nobody could argue that they haven’t.
Connecticut also has [extremely NBA Analyst voice] a target on their backs. They have all this history on their sides, but one could argue that it’s just permanent motivation for every person who walks onto the court.
Someone telling you that they’re going to kick your butt is scary; everyone telling you that at the same time is scarier; but if it’s all you hear, day in day out, for years and years and months and months, it’s eventually going to start pissing you off, and eventually you’re going to do something about it. Might as well start with Maryland.
This is going to be a dope matchup, and it’s hard for me to pick between the two. But I will go with UConn, because you don’t bet against the Titans of college basketball unless you’re sure that they’re about to get into a scrap with the Gods of Olympus; and Maryland probably ain’t that.