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NCAA Women's Final Four Wrap-Up: Powerful Texas Overcomes Grind-it-Out Michigan and Oregon

Looking back on this past weekend's NCAA women's Final Four, what stands out to me is the contrast in teams' strong suits. The champion Texas Longhorns set the ball high, hit over the block, and delivered surgical strikes to win points quickly. Michigan and Oregon, UT's opponents in the semifinals and finals, respectively, got as far as they did with more of a grind-it-out approach. Defensively, Michigan and Oregon persistently dug opponents' spike attempts, and when the Wolverines and Ducks went on offense, they sometimes would need multiple hitting attempts on a single rally to finally put the ball away.

The following graph conveys the Longhorns' devastating offensive prowess in their final three matches of the tournament (vs. USC in the Elite Eight, and the Michigan and Oregon matches). In addition to the conventional hitting-percentage statistic ([Kills - Errors]/Total Attempts), I have presented a slight variation, namely kill percentage (Kills/Total Attem…

Preview of the NCAA Women's Final Four

The NCAA women's Final Four begins Thursday night, with Michigan facing Texas, followed by Penn State taking on Oregon. To preview the Final Four, I've decided to look back on each team's victory in the Elite Eight. To begin, for each of the victorious teams, let's look at the result of every spike attempted in its respective Elite Eight match (you may click on the following graphics to enlarge them). Box scores for the matches are available at the following links: Penn State-Minnesota, Oregon-Nebraska, Texas-USC, and Michigan-Stanford.

Let's walk through the first case, to illustrate the format. Penn State attempted 156 spikes vs. Minnesota. Sixty-two of these attempts (39.7%) were successful, resulting in kills. Outcomes depicted in black (or dark blue, later) are good. Twenty-five Nittany Lion attacks resulted in hitting errors, 14 (9%) because they were blocked right back onto the Penn State side of the floor for immediate Gopher points and 11 (7%) because Penn…

Favorites March On in Friday's NCAA Women's Sweet 16

A tournament in which favored teams overwhelmingly prevail is known, via an expression from horse racing, as following the "chalk." This year's NCAA women's competition is definitely looking like a chalk tournament, as all but one of the eight remaining teams after last night's Sweet 16 round is a top-eight seed. Today's match-ups thus include the following (see bracket for starting times):

No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 8 Minnesota

This match does not look to be all that competitive, at least on paper, as the Nittany Lions took both matches from the Gophers during Big 10 conference play. The first match, in Minneapolis, was a 25-23, 25-8, 25-20 Penn State rout, as the Lions outhit the Gophers .404-.098. The second match, in State College, was closer, but still decisive for Penn State, 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 25-21.

If one delves further into the statistics of the second match, however, there are some bright spots for the Gophers. Minnesota actually outhit (.207-.204) …

NCAA Women's Tourney -- the First Weekend

The Big 10 (which actually has 12 schools) and Pac 12 conferences each had seven teams in this year's NCAA women's tournament. At this stage, with two rounds complete after the first weekend, the Big 10 is looking a bit stronger than the Pac 12. The former has lost only one team (Ohio State), whereas the latter has lost three (No. 7-seed and defending national champion UCLA, Cal, and Arizona State).

Many of the top teams from the two conferences  -- No. 1-seed Penn State and No. 4 Nebraska of the Big 10; and No. 2 Stanford, No. 5 Oregon, and No. 6 USC of the Pac 12 -- made it through to next weekend's Sweet 16 without having lost as much as a single game (set). Other teams faced tougher competition and thus struggled to varying degrees to advance. From the Big 10:
No. 8 Minnesota dropped the first set of its second-round match against Creighton, before taking the next three (20-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-17). The Gophers hit .314 as a team against the Blue Jays, with five Minneso…