Penn State women's
shootyhoops basketball wrapped up a three seed in the Spokane region of the NCAA Women's Tournament. Aside from getting a bad draw geographically (it's shaping up that they'd play 6th seed LSU in Baton Rouge in the second round, then Cal and Stanford in Spokane in the Sweet 16/Elite 8), Penn State probably could not have gotten a better draw in terms of matchups. Stanford is arguably the weakest of all the one seeds. Cal may be the best of all the two seeds in the tourney, but Penn State avoids powerhouses Baylor, UConn, Notre Dame and Tennessee until the tournament's final weekend.
Assuming there's chalk in the tournament, Penn State has a solid chance to get to at least the Sweet 16. Wanna break down their most likely matchups in every round, from the round of 64 to the National Title Game? Here you go.
Round 1 vs. Cal Poly: Cal Poly is 55th in the country in scoring and has very good balance on offense, with three lades that average double digits. HOWEVAH, one of those ladies (Brittany Woodard) has a torn ACL and will miss the tournament. Cal Poly also is a solid rebounding team, pulling down about as many RPG as PSU does. They're 56th in the country in FG%. They do struggle against higher level competition (blown out in losses to Oklahoma State and Cal), and they're not that great of a defensive team (184th in the country in scoring defense, 148th in FG% defense). As you know, PSU is high-level competition and a great offensive team. We all know that you should never assume things will happen in the NCAA Tournament (see: Lehigh beating Duke in the men's tournament last year), but I'd be willing to wager that Penn State advances.
Round 2 vs. LSU: While Green Bay's women are a mid-major powerhouse, LSU is the higher seed, and since we're assuming this is chalk, LSU is going to win. GEAUX TIGERS. LSU is a historically great program who has struggled in recent years, and is in their second year under coach Nikki Caldwell. LSU ended the year hot, winning 3 of their last 4 against ranked teams, but struggled against them earlier in the year. Also, like Cal Poly, they suck on defense; they're 213th in scoring defense and 161st in FG% defense. They can fill it up, as they're a top-50 scoring offense led by Theresa Plaisance's 17.4 PPG (three other ladies also average double digits). But between issues on defense and turnover problems (17.1 TPG are 179th in the country), it looks like a favorable matchup for PSU. Assuming all goes right, Penn State should be in the Sweet 16.
Sweet 16 vs. Cal: The two toughest teams in the Pac
10 12 are, depending on who you ask, Stanford and Cal. Unfortunately, PSU's next two games would probably be against Stanford and Cal. MEDIA CONSPIRACY. Cal hasn't beat up on bad opponents and struggled against good ones, although all three of their losses are against ranked teams, they're just really good. This game may feature the best guard matchup in the entire tournament: Maggie Lucas vs Layshia Clarendon. Cal's 21st in the country in scoring offense, 66th in scoring defense and 20th in scoring margin. If Penn State wants to win this game, they'll need to keep Cal off the boards (3rd in rebounding margin, 5th in rebounds per game, led by junior forward Gennifer Brandon's 11.2 RPG) and force Cal into uncharacteristic turnovers (41st in the country with only 14.2 TPG). While this should be a great game, don't be shocked if PSU's tournament run ends here.
Elite Eight vs. Stanford: If PSU can get by Cal, all roads to the Final Four would go through the Cardinal. Stanford enters the tournament on a 17 game win streak, featuring a win over Cal (who, coincidentally, is the last team to beat them) and a Pac 12 Tournament Championship. Stanford is led by junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, who is averaging an absurd 22.4 PPG and 13.1 RPG on 57.4 percent shooting. Don't be shocked if Coquese Washington digs WAY into her bench, throwing every big she has (Ariel Edwards, Nikki Greene, Mia Nickson, Talia East, maybe even Candice Agee) at Ogwumike. Also, Stanford is the #1 three-point shooting defense in America, and we all know that PSU loves to shoot threes (the 2nd 3pt% team in the country). To win, PSU would need to shut down Ogwumike while not letting anyone else go off, and hit their threes. I'm not optimistic, but hey, living in a world of hypotheticals is awesome.
Final Four vs. Baylor: Ugh. I think we all know what I'm going to talk about here: Brittney Griner. The 6'8" senior is, barring something crazy, going to lead Baylor into the Final Four and, in all likelihood, to the national title. For Penn State to win it's simple: they need to stop Griner. Dirty little secret: Baylor isn't that great of a team outside of Griner. Odyssey Sims is a good PG, but she can't carry the team. Nor can Destiny Williams or Brooklyn Pope. Their offense runs through Griner, as do their defensive rotations. Defensively, yes, Griner is going to destroy Penn State, but that's because she a destroyer of worlds on par with Robert Oppenheimer. But if PSU can keep her off the glass (tough, but not impossible), and make her a non-factor on offense (likewise), they could actually pull this one out. Just hoist up an ungodly amount of threes and hope they can make Griner a non-factor. I don't think they win this game, but I think they could make things interesting.
National Title Game vs. Notre Dame/UConn: I couldn't pick one, as these may be the two most evenly matched basketball teams in the country. However, if you want analysisisisisiss on teams other than Penn State, SBN has a blog for that (the ladies and fellas over at Swish Appeal, check them out, they're good people). I'm here to go 100 percent homersexual over PSU's ladies and what they need to do to win a title, dammit.
Against ND, Penn State is going to need to stop Skylar Diggins. Luckily Alex Bentley may be the best defensive guard in the country. Diggins is averaging 17 points and 5.9 assists per game, but like Griner, everything her team does runs through her. Her 5.9 APG are misleading, as she sets up teammates who set up teammates for shots (ND is third in the country in assists). Notre Dame also has three other options who can light it up: Kayla McBride (15.7 PPG, 91.5 percent from the stripe), Natalie Achonwa (13.9 PPG and 9.4 RPG) and Jewell Lloyd (10.9 PPG). But everything comes down to Diggins. She is the best PG in the country and, after Griner, arguably the best player in the country. Bentley would need to put on a defensive performance for the ages if PSU wanted to take home a title against ND. Could that happen? I think it could. But I'm biased.
Finally, there is UConn, the team that bounced PSU in the tourney last year. Geno Auriemma (or, as you may know him, Satan) has a powerhouse for the 4,538th consecutive year. However, this UConn team is slightly down: they sucked against Notre Dame this year (0-3, although every game was close) and lost by six at home against Baylor. Of course, even in a down year, UConn has beaten 8 top-25 teams, one of which was Penn State.
In the 67-52 loss to UConn, PSU shot an abysmal 20-59 from the field (33.9 percent). Lucas, Bentley and Dara Taylor combined for 9-37 shooting (a cool 24.3 percent). Aside from their poor shooting and foul trouble (four of the five starters had at least four fouls, with Lucas fouling out), PSU actually played really well. They outrebounded UConn, held the Huskies to way under their season average of 81.8 PPG and forced UConn to shoot only 41.1 percent from the field, far under their season average 49.1 percent.
To beat UConn, PSU would need to simply hit shots. Hard hitting analysis, I know. But think: Penn State could not have played much worse on the offensive end the last time these two teams played, but they managed to hold UConn to their 4th lowest scoring performance of the season. Other than Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 25 on the Lions, and Brianna Banks, everyone on UConn scored below their season average against PSU. Add in the revenge factor, and I fully think PSU could beat UConn if the two were to meet in the NCG. Cross your fingers. Hope this happens. #BuckleUp. And enjoy the tourney, y'all.