Tuesday, December 5, 2017

2017 NCAA Women's Tourney: First Weekend Wrap

The first two rounds of this year's NCAA women's tourney were completed this weekend and there were several casualties among seeded teams. We lost No. 8 Washington (to Illinois), No. 9 Creighton (to Michigan State), No. 12 Baylor (to Colorado), No. 14 Iowa State (to Wisconsin), and No. 16 Wichita State (to Mizzou). In addition, No. 4 Kentucky and No. 10 USC were taken to five games before prevailing, vs. Western Kentucky  and San Diego, respectively.

One might be tempted to say there's increasing parity among top teams. However, three of the upsets were engineered by unseeded Big Ten (B1G) teams, so it's hardly the case that teams from mid-major conferences are displacing ones from the power leagues. In fact, the B1G has six teams remaining    (No. 1 Penn State, No. 5 Nebraska, and No. 7 Minnesota, in addition to the unseeded teams listed above). The Pac 12 is close behind, with five remaining teams (No. 3 Stanford, No. 10 USC, No. 11 Utah, No. 15 UCLA, and unseeded Colorado). The SEC has three (No. 2 Florida, No. 4 Kentucky, and Mizzou). That's 14 of the final 16 coming from three major conferences! The other remaining teams are No. 6 Texas and No. 13 BYU.

Penn State raised a few eyebrows by dropping a game each to first-round opponent Howard and second-round opponent Pittsburgh. The spider-like pattern in the following graph (on which you can click to enlarge) shows some interesting hitting-percentage trends in these matches. Note that Penn State is shown in blue, the Nittany Lions' opponents are shown in red, the solid lines are from the PSU-Howard match, and the dashed lines are from the PSU-Pitt match. Teams' hitting percentages are shown for Games 1, 2, 3, and 4 of of the respective matches.

Penn State's game-specific hitting percentages in the two matches ranged from .265-415, except for a  .195 in Game 4 vs. Pitt. However, the Nittany Lions allowed Pitt to hit .324, .306, and .268 in the first three games (Game 2 being won by the Panthers), before Pitt slipped to .057 in Game 4. Howard's game-specific hitting percentages were quite interesting. In each of three games (1, 3, and 4), Howard hit .000 (recording an equal number of kills and errors). However, in Game 2, the Bison put up an excellent .355 (16 kills, 5 errors, on 31 attempts); Howard won this game. In short, Penn State's offense looked fine, but its defense was inconsistent.

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