March 07, 2022

A Better and More Balanced Team - Appreciating Stanford Excellence

 Warren Grimes

During her press conference after the Pac 12 tournament championship game, Utah Coach Lynne Roberts declared the Stanford team “better” and “more balanced” than last year’s NCAA championship-winning team.  According to Roberts, when the shot clock is winding down, opposing coaches don’t know who will be given the ball.  The loss of Kiana Williams, she conceded, was a big loss for Stanford, but the team has now learned to more than compensate for that loss.

It's difficult to argue with Roberts.  While Haley Jones may be the top “go to” player in a crunch, any player on the floor could be counted on to convert when it matters.  That includes the five starters and at least another five who saw substantial minutes during the Pac-12 tournament (Belibi, Jump, Iriafen, Prechtel, and Emma-Nnopu). 

This year’s team is exceptional for running off 20 non-stop victories since the beginning of January. This includes the entire conference season and the conference tournament.  It is a remarkable achievement, something last year’s team could not muster.  All the while, Stanford has shown steady improvement throughout the season.

Early in the season, a Stanford vulnerability was bringing the ball up the court.  Turnovers generated easy baskets for opponents.  The team, however, did not stand still.  Here are three measures of the team’s assist turnover ratio as the season progressed.

A/T for all games: 1.16

A/T for conference games: 1.22

A/T for the three Pac-12 tournament games: 1.91

Using a similar metric, one can chart the progress of the team in other offensive and defensive areas.

                                                      All Games           Conference Only       3 tourn. Games

Opp Total Points/Game              56.9                        58.67                                     45.67

Scoring Margin                           +16.9                     +18                                         +21.33

3 point FG %                                35%                        36.7%                                    46%

3 point FG % defense                 32%                        34.1%                                    29.23%

Field Goal % defense                 35%                        36.8%                                    30.77%

These statistics do not always flow in a positive direction.  During conference play, Stanford managed to up its free throw percentage to 72.6%, only to see it drop to 69% for the three tournament games.  Still, the overall picture painted by these statistics is a positive one for Stanford.  In the Pac-12 tournament, the team showed the ability to up its game for single elimination, post-season play.  Each of Stanford’s three opponents had won at least one previous matchup (Utah had won three in a row).  Stanford achieved its three-game statistical superiority against very good teams.

What the statistics don’t show is the chemistry that this team possesses.  With the Hulls leading the way, there is a special edge to this team that sets it apart from other Stanford teams.  These players play for each other, and do it with unprecedented focus, talent, and resilience.  Stanford will be a difficult out – actually a very difficult out -- for any opponent in the NCAA tournament. 

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