March 11, 2020

The Ionescu Massacres of 2020

Two separate massacres, in two distinct locations, occurred during an eight week period in the Winter of 2020.  The perpetrators were the same six individuals, led by a charismatic young woman named Sabrina Ionescu.  Her fellow assailants were five other young women, all bearing the “Ducks” logo.  
A strange moniker for participants in a double massacre?  Indeed!  But those were no ordinary ducks.  They were an elite group of athletes that had carefully selected and scouted their intended victim: the Stanford women’s basketball team.
An obscure nineteenth century statistician, Covid Ardvaark, developed a measurement for assessing the severity of these sports-related massacres.  The unit of measurement might have been called a “Covid-Aardvark”, but that label was awkward.  So folks just settled on the term “points.”  By this measure, the January 16 massacre in Eugene, Oregon was a 32 point disaster.  Eight weeks later, a 33 point debacle occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Just who are these massacre-perpetrating Ducks?  
Sabrina Ionescu might be the best female basketball player in the world today.  If the WNBA were to start over, with each team building a completely new roster from all available pro and amateur players, Ionescu could well be the first player drafted.  I can’t think of anyone I’d pick ahead of her.
In this year’s WNBA draft, Ionescu will be the first selected, but two other Oregon players (Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard) could also be among the top five selected.  If that happens, it would suggest that three of the five best draft eligible college players in the country played for the same team.  The Ionescu-Sabally-Hebard trio does not include another player with draft potential, Minyon Moore, who in Las Vegas laid 21 points on Stanford while shooting 4 for 5 from three point land.  Nor does it include Erin Boley and Taylor Chavez, both among the top three point shooters in the country.  
Yes, the Ducks are a pro quality team, and probably a superior pro-quality team.  In the preseason, Oregon convincingly defeated team USA, made up of some of the best pro players in the WNBA.  The Ducks should be the odds on favorite to win the national championship.  
The best defense against Oregon?  Maybe the Covid 19 virus.  This edition of the Ducks is the best team ever to play at that school, and could be the best women’s college team of the decade.  To definitively establish this, however, Oregon must win six more games.
If the Pac-12 conference really is the best, it’s time for the conference to win a national championship, something that has not happened for 28 years (Stanford won it in 1992).  Five Pac12 schools are projected to be top four seeds in the various regionals: Oregon #1, Stanford #2, UCLA #2, Arizona #4, and Oregon State #4.  More than one of these teams could make the final four.  But Oregon, by far, has the best chance of taking home the bacon.

Looking beyond next year, Oregon will likely continue to be a class act, with an excellent recruiting class coming in the Fall.  But they will lose four of five regular starters, among them Ionescu and two other All Americans.  
Meanwhile, the season is not over for Stanford.  They are a projected number two seed in the NCAA tournament.  Stanford is actually a very good team this year, having lost only six games, three of them to Oregon.  The team has performed well despite losing two of its very best players to long term injuries.  Both Dijonai Carrington and Haley Jones would have diversified and increased offensive output.  What if Jones or Carrington, or both of them, had been available in the tournament final?  Oregon may still have been the better team, but no more losses by 33 point margins.
Did Stanford make a mistake in its game plan against Oregon?  That plan called for Maya Dodson to guard Hebard - an approach that worked well in last year’s upset tournament victory over Oregon and in this season’s game at Maples.  The plan also called for sagging off Minyon Moore to pack the interior against other Oregon scorers.  The plan obviously didn’t work.  Minyon scored 21 points and Hebard 24 points.  
There is no evident defensive strategy that would likely have unravelled a team with such gifted and diverse offensive potential.  Ashten Prechtel played for 19 minutes and made two of three long range shots in the process of chalking up 14 points.  Her presence for more minutes might have increased Stanford’s offensive output, but Prechtel seemed no more effective in stopping Hebard than Stanford’s other post players.
Oregon’s statistical dominance over Stanford is clear.  In the two massacres, Oregon averaged a 32.5 point margin, more than the Ducks’ season average 28.1 margin built up against lesser opponents.  Oregon clearly played its best in these contests. 
As humbling as these statistics are, it is worth noting that Stanford was, at season’s end, the second best team in the most competitive conference in the country.  Over the course of the season, Stanford had victories over #9 Mississippi State, #10 UCLA, #11 Gonzaga, and #25 Arizona State, not to mention three victories over #14 Oregon State.  Stanford’s only loss to a non top 15 school was on the road against Texas, another NCAA tournament-bound team.  
Further proof of Stanford’s mettle?  Stanford took down #10 UCLA in the semi-final game.  In that game, UCLA was held to 51 points, well below its season average.  Michaela Onyenwere was held to 16 points on 6 for 16 shooting.  Onyenwere got six rebounds, not enough.  These were very good numbers for the Stanford defense.
To make a deep run in the tournament, Stanford must continue playing defense the way it did against UCLA.  And the team must find a way to share the scoring burden with Kiana Williams and Lexie Hull.  Ashten Prechtel and friends need to step it up.

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