Games to Watch Week 10
Clear your calendar on Thursday and Sunday
There were seven ranked-on-ranked games to pick from this week, but there were a LOT of other games we had to cut, almost all on either Thursday or Sunday. Settle in on those days, if you can, and tune in.
This is a newer one in the pantheon of women’s basketball rivalries, one that has only been played 10 times. That said, there has only been one meeting where either Baylor or UConn was not No. 1, and in that meeting, it was No. 2 Baylor visiting No. 3 UConn, a 72–61 Huskies win. There has also only been one meeting where both teams weren’t top-10, and that was the first meeting, a national semifinal game back in 2010 between the No. 1 Huskies and No. 14 Lady Bears, a 70–50 UConn win. Overall, the Huskies lead the series 4–3, and this game should be as close as the series is. UConn is the higher AP-ranked team, but according to our Her Hoop Stats Rating, Baylor is the stronger team.
Baylor is the stronger team in two of our three of our Her Hoop Stats Ratings, overall and defensive, including being No. 1 defensive and No. 2 in overall. Baylor is also top-two in the country in a number of statistical categories. They include field goal percentage, points per game, total rebounding rate, and assists per game. Some of those top rankings are even more impressive considering the Lady Bears’ best player in those categories ranks 46th (sophomore Queen Egbo), 160th (sophomore NaLyssa Smith), 23rd (Egbo), and 29th (grad student Te’a Cooper). It will require a whole-team defensive effort if UConn wants to win.
UConn will be ready for pretty much anything Baylor throws at them, thanks to their No. 1-ranked Simple RPI. Furthermore, the Huskies and Lady Bears are within a few slots of each other in a number of categories, including UConn being just 2.8 percentage points, and two slots, behind Baylor’s No. 1-ranked 51.9% field goal percentage. The two teams are also just two-fifths of a percentage point apart in effective field goal percentage. Individually, the Huskies have a few players the Lady Bears will need to focus in on to win. Notable among these are the (tied-for) top-ranked three-point shooter in the nation (senior Kyla Irwin, at 66.7%), and the player tied for 12th in the nation in points per game (junior Megan Walker, at 21.0).
#21 Arkansas at #4 South Carolina — 1/9 at 7:00 p.m. ET (SECN+)
This game won our first-ever GOTW Twitter poll, 78% to 22%, over the No. 7 Louisville at Miami (FL) game, an overwhelming margin. The series record between the Razorbacks and Gamecocks is much closer. For the first time since we added series records to this piece, we have a tie, 18–18. That said, Arkansas is 5–10 in games played in Columbia, and South Carolina is undoubtedly the favorite in this one as well.
Arkansas is, as their rank would indicate, an excellent team this season. The Razorbacks are currently second in the country in points per play, at 0.99, third in points per 100 possessions, at 113.2, and fourth in points per game, at 86.2. It’s how Arkansas gets those points, and where the Razorbacks are best at preventing opponents from scoring, that may be the most salient in comparing them to the Gamecocks. Arkansas is significantly better at both shooting and defending the three, compared to the two. Before we dig in, keep in mind, the two-pointer is a much higher percentage shot overall: the best two-point shooting team in the country, Oregon, is shooting 59.7% from that distance, while the best three-point shooting team, Holy Cross, is connecting on 43.8%. The Razorbacks are 16th in the nation in three-point percentage, at 38.6%, and 33rd, at 49.7%, in two-point percentage. They are second nationally in opponent three-point percentage, allowing just 21.5% success, while they allow opponents to connect on 41.0% of their shots from two, 84th.
South Carolina is just the opposite. The Gamecocks shoot 50.1% from two, 29th in the country, and 35.1% from three, 48th. Their opponents connect on 28.1% of their shots from three, 74th nationally, and 32.5% from two, good for second. Just as they shoot well from inside the arc, South Carolina excels at a number of close-to-the-rim defensive categories. The Gamecocks are best in the nation in blocks per game and block rate, as well as offensive rebounding rate. Individually, South Carolina is led in those categories by freshman Aliyah Boston, and has three players, Boston, sophomore Victaria Saxton, and junior Lele Grissett, shooting over 60% from two. Even though as a team they shoot better from three, Arkansas’ leading scorer, junior Chelsea Dungee, gets 45.9% of her 25th-ranked 19.7 points per game from two. Dungee will be key in this game, she is the Razorbacks’ leading scorer by 5.2 points per game, but she will have to find a way to navigate South Carolina’s strong defensive presence inside. Arkansas will need that team three-point shooting to show up in Columbia on Thursday if they want to pick up the win.
#3 Oregon State at #18 Arizona— 1/10 at 10:00 p.m. ET (PAC12N)
Arizona has, without question, the toughest week of any squad in the country, facing both Oregon State and Oregon just two days apart. In other words, they’re playing the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation over the span of three days. The Beavers have a 37–31 lead in the series with the Wildcats. As for this year, if you want fast, run-and-gun, offense, this is not the game for you. Oregon State’s 69.6 possessions per 40 minutes is ranked 274th out of 351 teams, Arizona’s 70.1 is 257th. The Beavers are only 6.0 possessions ahead of the last-place team, Bucknell.
Slow may not be exciting, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Oregon State is ranked second nationally in two-point percentage, and first in defensive rebounds per game, plus the Beavers are top-10 in a number of others, including a 10th-ranked 19.1 assists per game. What may be more impressive, however, is that the Beavers have three different players in the top 10% of the country in each of those four categories. Leading the way for Oregon State is senior Mikayla Pivec, who is in the top 10% of the nation in field goal percentage, two-point percentage, offensive, defensive, and total rebounds per game, and assists and points per game. Freshman teammate Taylor Jones is in the same elite company in six of the same seven categories, and adds her seventh if you swap out assists for blocks.
As discussed last week, Arizona is led by two stars in sophomore Cate Reese and junior Aari McDonald, who are each in the top-10% club in four categories. The individual drop-off after those two Wildcats may be a little wider than it is for the two leading Beavers, but, as a team, Arizona is just as strong, albeit in different categories. The Wildcats are best in the country in opponent points per game, and third in opponent field goal percentage and opponent two-point percentage. It will be interesting to see if Oregon State can overcome Arizona’s two-point defense or if that D will hold serve.
Texas at #19 West Virginia— 1/12 at 1:00 p.m. ET (FSN)
Texas leapt into the national awareness this season with their 69–64 win over then-No. 1 Stanford, while West Virginia’s biggest win by far is their 82–75 road win at then-No. 10 Mississippi State. The Longhorns hold a 12–7 lead in the all-time series, which had only one meeting before the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 for the 2012–13 season. This year, West Virginia and Texas are separated by just 0.7 percentage points in overall field goal percentage and just 0.2 points from two, but both teams are strong in other areas that allow them to win games by an average of 14.2 and 8.8 points per game, respectively.
The Longhorns are in the top 10% of the country in four of the six rebounding categories (total, offensive and defensive rebounds per game and the same three divisions of rebounding rate). Their best overall categories are total rebounds and total rebounding rate, where they come in 11th and 18th respectively. The Longhorns are also significantly stronger on the offensive glass than the defensive, coming in 23rd in offensive rebounding rate and 47th in defensive. Leading the way for Texas individually in all six rebounding categories is Charli Collier, whose 11.1 total rebounds per game rank 14th. The sophomore center is also second on the team in scoring, just 0.3 points per game behind senior forward Joyner Holmes. While neither the Longhorns or Mountaineers are super-strong shooting teams, it’s no surprise Texas has frontcourt players topping its scoring chart, as the Longhorns are 16.4%, and 112 ranking spots, better at shooting the two than the three.
West Virginia is vastly better, rankings-wise, at shooting the three than the two. They are 109th in two-point field goal percentage at 46.1%, and 61st in three-point percentage, at 34.5%. West Virginia is similarly strong on the glass, but their stronger category, similar to shooting, is opposite that of Texas. The Mountaineers are 22nd nationally in defensive rebounding rate, at 73.9%, and 66th in offensive, at 36.3%. The opposite-ness across the board (pun intended) of these two teams will mean either Texas or West Virginia will have to improve on a weakness to get the big W.
Arizona’s tough week continues as they host Oregon, a team they are 28–39 against all time, and the Wildcats are looking to break a seven-game losing streak against the Ducks. When you look at the Lobo’s Look comparison of these two teams, the first thing that jumps off the screen is the fact that Oregon scores the most points in the country, while Arizona allows the fewest. Even with that dichotomy, the Ducks are second in margin per game at 34.4, while the Wildcats are 10th, 10.6 points behind, at 23.8.
Oregon is No. 1 currently in our HHS Offensive Rating, which adjusts a team’s offensive efficiency for the strength of their opponents. The Ducks are No. 1 in assist-to-turnover ratio, and No. 2 in assists per game. That second category is, unsurprisingly, led by senior Sabrina Ionescu’s top-ranked 8.8 assists per game. Ionescu’s 15.6 points per game are second on the team, behind senior Ruthy Hebard’s 17.0. All of Hebard’s shots have been from two-point range, and her 69.7% overall field goal percentage, is fifth in the country. That shooting excellence continues when you expand consideration to the whole team. Oregon is top-10 in nearly every shooting category, and in three-point percentage, the one they’re not top ten in, they’re still in the top top ten percent. Interestingly, the defensive shooting category they are best in is that same one, as their 24.7% opponent three-point percentage is 11th nationally.
Arizona, as we mentioned above, excels on the defensive side of the court. The Wildcats are underdogs in this game against the Ducks, just as they are against the Beavers. That said, there’s one difference between Oregon and Oregon State that might help Arizona. Oregon State is good at a lot of the things Arizona struggles with, but Oregon’s “weak” (I use that term loosely, they’re still top-10%) three-point shooting spot lines up with Arizona’s weakest (also used loosely) opponent field goal shooting one, their 60th-ranked opponent three-point percentage.
We mentioned it above, but check out our new feature, Lobo’s Look, for comparing any two teams in the country. Here it is for Baylor at UConn, but have fun putting in whichever teams you want to see.
We know it’s hard to keep track of all the Games to Watch, especially the midweek ones, so we’ve started a Google Calendar. You can find it here, with the iCal link here. You can also follow Her Hoop Stats on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for your women’s basketball coverage.
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All stats (from Her Hoop Stats) are for games through January 5. AP rankings are up to date as of the January 6 poll.