February 09, 2021

Weekly Conference Awards -- Weakly Relevant to Team Performance


Warren Grimes

In women’s hoops, as in a number of other team sports, the Pac-12 conference honors players for their performance during the week – the Player of the Week (PoW) and the Freshman of the Week (FoW) awards.  The conference has dispensed 22 awards over the last 11 weeks.  These awards are a way of promoting the sport and building fan interest – so far not much to dislike. 

Washington State has won the FoW award six times.  Each went to Charlisse Leger-Walker.   UCLA has won the PoW award 4 times (Charisma Osborne has won twice).  Both of these teams are very good – but lack the depth and balance of other top teams. 

Meanwhile, the top two teams in the conference (Stanford and Arizona) plus another team in the top four (Oregon) have each won an award only once.  For Stanford, the sole award recipient is Haley Jones, who won the PoW award in the second week of the season.

Although rebounds, assists, and steals are frequently mentioned in announcing the winner, the chief criteria for the awards is points scored.  Charlisse Leger-Walker does a lot for the WSU team, but it is her point-scoring that has given her six FoW awards.  It is standard for any weekly award winner to have had at least one 20 plus-point performance during the week. 

To win games, a team must score points and play defense to limit an opponent’s points.   The weekly awards honor offensive performance but almost totally ignore defense.  In season-ending awards, the Pac-12 does recognize defensive performance, but this sensitivity is nowhere to be seen in the weekly recognitions.  If it were, a player such as Anna Wilson would have been recognized.  Consider, for example, Wilson’s performance in holding Charlisse Leger-Walker to season low numbers during Stanford’s back to back victories over WSU.

Another idiosyncrasy is the treatment of players who don’t play 30 plus minutes on court.  Stanford is blessed with depth that keeps many of its top players on the court for fewer minutes (Kiana Williams is the only Stanford player averaging over 30 minutes).  

Cameron Brink is a great example.  Since joining the starting lineup, Brink has averaged just over 20 minutes per game.  Despite this, Brink leads the conference in at least three categories: (1) field goal percentage (60.7%); (2) rebounds (Brink is 6th in the conference in rebounds per game, but first in rebounds per minute); and (3) blocks per game.  Two of the categories are defensive (Brink’s defensive boards and blocks).  Brink was nominated for the FoW for the week ending Feb. 7.   Averaging just over 20 minutes per game, Brink had a double-double against Utah (10 boards, 12 points and 3 blocks) and was equally impressive against Colorado (8 boards, 13 points and 6 blocks).  But Brink lost out to Leger-Walker’s 20 plus point performances against USC and UCLA. 

The award system leaves players like Brink under recognized.  It also leaves teams with depth and balance under recognized – and that would be Stanford and probably Oregon as well.   As a team, Stanford leads the conference in a long list of categories, both offensive (points scored, scoring margin, field goal percentage, rebounding offense, and rebounding margin) and defensive (scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, blocked shots, three point percentage defense, and rebounding defense).  These category wins are team wins.  Stanford does not have players (other than Brink) who lead the conference in any individual category.

Stanford’s statistical dominance is more pronounced than any Stanford team within recent memory.  That statistical balance is a strength – it gives Stanford more options in critical moments of a close game.

Statistical dominance, however, does not assure victory.  In the two losses, UCLA and Colorado bested Stanford despite these two teams far weaker showing in overall conference statistics.  And Oregon, which shows well in conference stats, has two lopsided losses to Arizona, which lags a bit in conference stats. 

The Pac 12 is a tough conference.  So matchups, game strategy, and motivation are wild cards that will determine the outcome of many a game.  On paper, Stanford should win out in the conference.  But in practice, Stanford will be threatened in most if not all of its remaining conference games.

As far as the conference’s player of the week awards, they do leave a balanced and deep team like Stanford under recognized.  When Stanford wins, that lack of recognition matters little.  The wins are the best form of recognition.   Any day of the week, I’d take a conference championship over all the player of the week awards.  Perhaps, however, the conference should consider a weekly award for defensive prowess.  

Stay safe!

1 comment:

Stephen Perlman said...

Warren- I could not have said it better. I would argue that the criteria for any national awards is probably the same.

Volume minutes, volume scoring, rebounding, etc. is what these award committees look for. Cameron Brink is scoring over 60%, but you won't find her among the national leaders because she hasn't played sufficient minutes.

It would not surprise me if the awards committees does not select ONE Stanford player to their All-American teams (just honorable mention) and then Stanford runs the table and captures the NCAA Championship.

How silly the committees would look.