March 01, 2021

A Superb Conference-Winning Team -- How Good Are They?


Warren Grimes

The regular season is over.  Stanford has won the conference championship for the first time since 2014.  Stanford accomplished this in a unique and very trying season in which the team played no home games, and had no home practice facilities, for two uninterrupted months.  But just how good is this team?

The conference statistics show that, after a lapse of years that began with Chiney Ogwumike’s graduation, Stanford is once again, by a significant margin, the preeminent team in the conference.   

Stanford was the number one conference team in a variety of offensive categories, including average points per game (78), field goal percentage (46.9%), average margin of victory (25 points per game) and rebounding margin (10.5 per game).  The team also had a number of conference leading totals on defense, holding opponents to an average of 53 points per game and to conference lows for opponents’ field goal shooting (32.9%) and 3-point shooting (26.9%). 

When compared to great Stanford teams of the past, this season’s team still looks very good indeed.  Of course, the proof will lie in post-season performance.  The team’s defensive prowess is particularly impressive.  Here are some comparisons of this season’s defensive stats with past Stanford VanDerveer-coached teams.

Opponents average points – Holding opponents to an average of 53 points per game, this is the second best showing ever during the VanDerveer era (the 2012-2013 team allowed only 51.9 points per game). 

Margin of victory - This year’s squad was the second best in the VanDerveer years (25 point margin this season compared to a 26.6 point margin in 1989-90).

Opponent’s 3-point percentage – Stanford limited opponents to 26.9%, the best since 2012-2013 (23.5%).

Offensive stats also compare favorably with past great Stanford teams.   

Field goal percentage – At 46.9%, this year’s team was the best since 2014 (47% and a final four team).

Points per game – At 78, this total was the highest since 2011 (79.3 points per game and a final four team).

Rebounding margin – At 10.5, the margin was the best since 2011 (11.6).

These comparisons may understate the quality of this year’s team.  Many of the old records were set during a time when Stanford tended to dominate the conference.  No more of that – as demonstrated by 6 consecutive seasons when Stanford failed to win the conference. 

How does Stanford stand up to last year’s Oregon team?  Last year’s Ionescu-led team was the best conference team in memory, and would have bested this season’s Stanford team in offensive categories (points per game, field goal percentage, and margin of victory).  Interestingly, this year’s Stanford team showed better in defensive categories, holding opponents to fewer points and also besting the Ionescu-led squad in rebounding margin.  We’ll never know the results of this imaginary matchup, but it would have been a great contest to see.  

High school coaches who have experience with both boys and girls teams often comment on a key difference: the boys support the team in order to win: the girls win in order to support the team.  What happens when a high school coach yells at a player?  On a boys team, teammates stay silent and think to themselves: “Glad it wasn’t me.”  On a girls team, the player’s teammates are likely to rally to the player’s defense. 

The girls/womens squad’s greater focus on the team may be particularly apt for this season’s Stanford squad, where mutually supportive athletes have played through the Covid 19 pandemic (still going) and won a regular season title by a two game margin in what is probably the toughest conference in the country.

In the final season games, Stanford played especially stout defense.  Over the past 11 games (since losing to UCLA), the average points allowed was 49.2.  Stanford held its last three opponents to an average of 40.7 points.  This was accomplished with one of Stanford’s stoutest defenders (Lacie Hull) not playing against Arizona or California.  Part of this defense was a full court press implemented in the third quarter against California (Stanford outscored Cal 27 to 2 during that quarter).  The press is one more weapon that can be employed in the post season. 

So who is it on the team that plays defense? 

The answer: Everyone.

On a Tara VanDerveer team, no one gets playing time without playing D. 

But certain players do stand out.  On the perimeter Anna Wilson is a strong candidate for conference defender of the year.  The Hull sisters are also highly focused and effective perimeter defenders.  Inside, Cameron Brink leads the conference in blocks.  Brink and other interior defenders play a substantial role in keeping down the opponent’s shooting percentages.  Shots that are not blocked tend to get altered.  

Stanford has depth; Stanford has balance; Stanford has the defense; Stanford has the offense; and Stanford can bring the moxie.  If it does, it should win the Pac 12 tournament.   

Starting with 2013, Stanford has won the tournament every other year (2015, 2017, and 2019).  2021 fits nicely into this pattern.  

Stay safe.

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