Movings on

Four Colorado Buffaloes entered the transfer portal, including two key seniors, Tuitele and Finau.

Utah’s fifth-year senior Dru Gylten tweeted Monday that she’s entering the portal. She plans to move closer to home, and her fiancĂ©. (Nothing good ever comes of marriage proposals.)

Home is Rapid City, South Dakota, where WNBA Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon grew up. Assuming Hammon is the most accomplished and best-known basketball player to attend Stevens HS (there’s also Eric Piatkowski, who spent nine years with NBA Clippers while they were terrible), I’d think they would rename their gym after her. I think that’s the least Rapid City could do; given Hammon’s status as a member of the WNBA 25th anniversary and Russian Olympic teams, a six-time all-star whose number was retired in San Antonio, I’d push to rename Main St. as Becky Hammon Drive were I on the Rapid City council.

Like I said, Gylten’s departure leaves an immeasurable hole in Utah’s roster, and I think 2023 will be a lost year for Utah unless it’s adequately patched. Utah’s in a weird place where lateral movement would be considered a failure, because that’s how fair-weather supporters are.

Arizona State named Natasha Adair head coach. Adair was at Delaware for five years, most recently coaching the Blue Hens to an NCAA appearance.

Adair replaces Charli Turner Thorne, who retired after 25 years with the Sun Devils. She won 488 games, 2nd-most all-time in the Pac. The leader in that category is Coach VanDerveer at Stanford, for whom Turner Thorne played in the late ’80s.

If one of your players from 30-some years ago retires as a coach, maybe you’d think about retiring yourself, but Coach VanDerveer is still having fun. There’s a video circulating of Coach doing the electric slide with her team. I didn’t know what an “electric slide” was until watching that video, and there’s Coach dancing with a bunch of kids.

If retirement were on Coach VanDerveer’s mind, I thought last year would’ve been a storybook moment, with those championships in the early ’90s and the one in 2021 as bookends. Also, that would’ve left this year’s championship-caliber team in the hands of (presumably) Coach Paye, who would later have a few years of experience in the big chair when a rebuild became of order.

Stanford and UCLA advance to their respective semifinals

I slept through UCLA 74, Oregon St. 66 in a round-of-8 WNIT game, though it was the last chance to Back The Pac on both sides. I might’ve erred by enrolling in a data science class before April, but I’m preparing for the Basketball Analytics Summit.

The Bruins get South Dakota State Thursday in a semifinal game. That’ll be weird, because I’ve rooted for South Dakota State since they came into Maples for NCAA rounds 1 and 2 some years ago, with fans who were insanely in love with their team. It was charming, and they said ‘you think this is nuts, come to a home game in Brookings’.

Stanford 59 Texas 50

There’s a common trope that says if you want to establish a bad guy as a serious threat, start by having him kick your toughest guy’s ass. The uber example is Worf on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. A Klingon warrior assigned to tactics and security, Worf got curbstomped repeatedly, just to set the bad guy of the week as bad.

That’s how I saw Texas. They’d already beaten Stanford, and they pounded Utah in round 2 of the NCAA tournament. Not even Stanford smacked Utah as hard as Texas did.

Stanford could get North Carolina St. (#1 from Bridgeport region) then Louisville (#1 from Wichita) or South Carolina (#1 in every sense of #1), and those teams don’t scare me as much as Texas.

Stanford beat Texas 59-50 by winning quarters 2-through-4 by margins of 2, 4, and 3, for being tougher and more physical than the Longhorns. Stanford’s been dealing with a “cute kids who get good grades and look like the girl who delivers your newspapers” misconception since the ’90s. If I were Coach VanDerveer, I’d milk that for as long as I could. The cute kids who get good grades and look like the papergirl out-rebounded Texas 45-29, and blocked 11 shots (to Texas’ 1). I thought 11 might’ve had some historic significance, but it’s not even their highest total of the season: The Cardinal blocked 13 vs. South Carolina Nov. 21.

It was sort of a tag team effort for Stanford. Cameron Brink might’ve delivered all of her 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 blocks during the 3rd quarter. In the 4th, it was all Haley Jones and Lexie Hull. A game as physical at that results in many free throws attempted, and Stanford shot 18-of-22 to Texas’ 11-of-20.

11Joanne Allen-Taylor7.6
03Rori Harmon7.1
01Lauren Ebo-3.3
05DeYona Gaston-2.3
10Shay Holle-0.4
31Audrey Warren7.3
21Aaliyah Moore5.3
02Aliyah Mathura-3.3
35Latasha Lattimore-1.7

Pythagorean win expectations

Everything is Bill James’ fault. Bill James is the nerd who began the trend toward baseball analytics (James coined the term “sabrmetrics”) as a household term.

Baseball analytics works, because baseball performance is usually an individual thing: one guy throws it, another guy hits it 500 feet or swings and misses. You can chart that with some basis in reality.

After the application of baseball analytics began saving and making major league baseball teams billions of dollars, basketball people naturally wanted to participate. But I don’t think basketball performance can soundly be quantified as an individual thing; even when Chamberlain scored 100, it was a cooperative effort of 10 players. Chamberlain’s teammates had to give him the ball, and their opponents had to give Chamberlain’s team the ball; the other team was committing turnovers on purpose at the end of that game.

Team-based analytics have a better shot at genuine usefulness. Take the Pythagorean Winning Percentage, which James concocted as a method for determining an expected winning percentage based on runs scored:

pwp = (runs_scored^2) / (runs_scored^2 + runs_allowed^2)

The 2021 San Francisco Giants won 107 regular season games (107-55, .660). The Giants scored 804 runs, and allowed 594, for a Pythagorean projection of .647, or 105 wins.

For reasons that escape me, Daryl Morey (NBA Philadelphia) and John Hollinger (NBA Memphis) use exponents of 13.91 and 16.5, respectively. Look at what this does to the 2022 Utah Utes women.

pwp = (points_scored^some_exponent) / (points_scored^some_exponent + points_allowed^some_exponent)

The Utes scored 2505 points, and allowed 2251, and went 21-12 (.636).

Using Morey’s exponent 13.91, Utah’s Pythagorean expectation was .816, or 27-6. Using Hollinger’s exponent 16.5, the Utes’ expectation was .854, or 28-5. I tried a range of exponents until landing on 5, which returned .631.

TeamScoredAllowedactual winsPythagorean expected
Oregon St.193218661716
Arizona St.164515571215
Washington St.180218001915
Southern Cal180118111214

No matter what happens to Stanford Sunday, the Pac-12 will survive in the WNIT

Defending champion Stanford could be ousted Sunday by Texas — Texas looked invincible against Texas, but were quite vulnerable vs. Ohio State — but the Pac-12 would still be alive in the WNIT, because UCLA and Oregon St. have to play each other in Corvallis.

UCLA 82 Wyoming 81 was weirdly anticlimactic for a triple overtime game. Maybe both sides were completely gassed, or at least disspirited for the disqualifications of each team’s leading scorers.

Oregon St. overcame a 30-point first quarter by New Mexico (the Lobos shot 8-of-12 3FG), and won each of the last three quarters to win 78-73. Senior Ellie Mack scored a season-high 22.

The Bruins and Beavers met once in the regular season, a 72-58 OSU win. UCLA, playing shorthanded all year, were without team leader Charisma Osborne.

What now, Utah?

Texas shot a season-high 63.6% (35-of-55) Sunday, and beat Utah 78-56 in the round of 32. The Longhorns’ previous high was on Nov. 9 vs. New Orleans (NET 342), when they shot 61% (47-of-77) in a 131-36 win.

35 of 55. I tweeted in exasperation “Does Texas always shoot this well?”. Couple that with full court pressure akin to Arizona’s or Colorado’s, and AP #6 Texas looks capable of beating South Carolina or Stanford.

Utah finished at 21-12, 16 wins better than last year, with their first NCAA appearance in the Roberts era, their first Pac-12 tournament final, and a bunch of post-season awards. Utah’s bandwagoneers share an opinion that the program has a bright future ahead, because that’s life on the bandwagon: Nothing but clear skies.

Maybe I’m the only one that thinks the Utes are in a precarious place.

What’s next year’s milestone? Let’s say it’s merely three or four more wins. One or two additional regular season wins earns a tournament bye. One more win in the tournament earns an automatic NCAA berth. One more win in the NCAA tournament means a trip to the regional finals site.

Doable? Not unless Utah is at least as well furnished at the one as they were this year. The easiest solution is for the coaching staff to persuade fifth-year senior Dru Gylten to return for a sixth, but this seems unlikely, considering Dru took part in senior night ceremony, and she also got engaged.

Without Dru, Utah is left with one one, freshman Ines Vieira, the fastest woman I’ve ever seen on a basketball floor. The only analogous NBA player is Leandro Barbosa, whom Phoenix Suns radio man Al McCoy calls “the Brazilian Blur”. Vieira is so fast that she can make steals by overtaking the ballhandler from behind, running around her, and swiping the ball without fouling. She scores and rebounds a bit more than Dru, but Dru defies quantification.

Dru Gylten is the heart and soul of the Utah Utes, the straw that stirs the drink, the spark that drives the engine, the catalyst that generates the chemistry, the coach on the floor, the elder statesman. She’s the first player Coach Roberts said I’d love, and was correct in the prediction.

Dru is irreplaceable, but her absence is inevitable. It’s not in the team’s scheme to let Vieira play 38 minutes, so what are their options for someone else to play 20?

1) Move a two to the one. Coach Roberts had unreal good fortune shuffling guards around at Pacific. In Pacific’s Big West Conference championship season, a natural two was playing at one while a natural one was playing at two, and it worked splendidly. I reckon if she tried this in Utah, she’d look at Kneepkens as a possible one, which would mean the team’s biggest offensive weapon would start with the ball in her hands, while returning senior Maxwell could resume starting at two.

2) Reel one in from the transfer portal. Pacific got a couple of outstanding transfers from Fresno State in 2014, but for an unfortunate stretch, Madison Parrish carried the team on her back. As went Madison Parrish, so went the Pacific Tigers. Utah most certainly doesn’t want that.

3) Recruit one. That would be swell for 2026, but the Utes are gunning for 2024.

NCAA round of 16: Stanford against the world

With the exception of Stanford, the #1 seed and alive in the Spokane region, the Pac-12 teams have been wiped out of the NCAA tournament. With the exception of Utah, they were all knocked out by lower-seeded opponents.

If you’re backing the Pac, you’re hoping for Stanford to hold off the rest of the world in the remaining field of 16, and for UCLA or Oregon State to win the WNIT. Otherwise, our stance that the Pac is the toughest league in the NCAA is on shaky ground.

The defending champion Cardinal look like a fair bet to survive the regional. The Hull twins found additional incentive in the possibility of playing the rounds of 16 and 8 in their hometown, and Lexie had a career game in round two vs. Kansas. Hull scored a career-best 36 points, and added 6 rebounds, 6 steals, and 3 assists in Stanford’s 91-65 win at Stanford. Her Hollinger GameScore of 35.2 is the highest I’ve crunched yet this season.

Stanford led merely by two at half, 33-31, and Coach Tara VanDerveer said the outcome was truly in doubt, until Hull poured in 25 points in the third and fourth quarters. “(The game) came down to ‘we had Lexie Hull, and they didn’t,” she said.

That was the night before Arizona was knocked out by North Carolina, and after Texas eliminated Utah 78-56 on the Longhorns’ home floor (it’s high time the first two rounds be conducted on neutral floors). “That was a tough loss for Utah,” said VanDerveer, “but how great for their freshmen and sophomores to play in this tournament for the first time. I’m very happy for what (Utah coach Lynne Roberts) has done with that team.”

Stanford takes on AP #13 Maryland, the #4 seed in the Spokane region, tonight. The rules against personal electronic devices at chess tournaments get more and more stringent. These days, you’re required to leave your phone powered off beside your board (these restrictions don’t have much effect on me; I work in the office downstairs from the chess club, so my work computer is always a few steps away, enabling me to cheat at chess or watch basketball at will).

NCAA day 2: Oregon and Washington St. lose upsets, only Arizona survives

A bad Saturday for the Pacific-12 at the NCAA tournament Sunday. Oregon and Washington State both lost in upsets, during which I couldn't keep awake for being out and about all Friday.

Only Arizona survived, 72-67 over UNLV. It was the first game in which I really thought they missed Aari McDonald. McDonald would've given them more space there, McDonald would've won the race to that ball, McDonald would've been their shooter, and so on. Sure, as long as you're picking the spots, you can do this for any team missing any great player, but this was the first time this season I found myself doing so for Arizona and Aari McDonald.

That game was within five points in both directions for three quarters (UNLV led by 7 for two possessions in the 2nd; Arizona led by 6 for one possession in the 3rd), but as ESPN talking head Coach Dan Hughes said, Arizona's ball pressure eventually wears opponents out. 

Tied at 56-56 with 5:34 rema ining, went on an 11-0 run. Senior guard Shaina Pellington made two steals during the run, and led all scorers with 30 points. Four steals and four assists opposite zero turnovers. A 25.6 Hollinger GameScore, the highest I've crunched this year.

Cate Reese played for the first time in three weeks, but that shoulder is obviously nagging her. Especially at the free throw line, when it's Cate Reese alone with her separated shoulder.

The trouble with Oregon getting knocked out of the Wichita region and Washington State from the Bridgeport region is that an all-Pac-12 round of four is ruled out, while Arizona is the only Pac-12 team left on that side of the bracket, while Stanford and Utah are on a collision course in the other.

That is, assuming Stanford beats two opponents, starting with #8 Kansas tonight, while Utah does the same (a more difficult task: #2 seed Texas, then probably #3 LSU).

Utah had no difficulty in eliminating Arkansas Friday. It was 10-0 at the start, and Arkansas never threatened. The Utes will deal with their first adversity today against Texas -- #6 in the Associated Press poll, and in their own building. Though it's possible the freshmen Johnson, Kneepkens, and Vieira won't feel a thing. (It's 44-30 at half.)

NCAA day one: Stanford and Utah advance, Colorado goes home

The first day of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament was a very long day. Any day in which I watch four games is taxing, but I went Friday with no sleep (I’ve been nervous and edgy since Selection Sunday; sleeping Thursday night, ha), and watched in three locations. 10:30 a.m. at home for Colorado-Creighton, drove to Stanford to watch Utah-Arkansas in the media workroom at 2:30, then hopped over to Maples for Kansas-Georgia Tech at 4:30 and Stanford-Montana State at 7 (I tried to sleep during the second half of the Stanford game, but my seat is in front of their obnoxious student section).

Got home and crashed, woke an hour ago. Still tired, so I’ll skip the formality of writing anything that resembles news.

#10 Creighton 84 #7 Colorado 74 (Greensboro)

I picked 15 of 16 in the women’s bracket; the only loser was picking Colorado over Creighton.

It sometimes seems to me that basketball coaches are blowing smoke at media when they say: “We’ll do what we do, and they’ll do what they do”, but that’s what happened.

Creighton shot the snot out of the ball to begin the second half (4-of-6 3FG), and made all their free throws at the end (12-of-12).

Colorado’s defense was not up to its usual standard. I’ve been itching to say for the last two months that “Kindyll Wetta never looked like a freshman this season”, but she did Friday. The play that killed the Buffaloes was with 1:36 left in the game, when Creighton led 72-68. Wetta made a steal in the backcourt, broke to the Colorado basket where she missed the contested layup, then committed an upgraded-to-intentional-foul-after-review to give Creighton two free throws plus possession. A six-point swing in the last 90 seconds of an elimination game.

The Blue Jays made 8-of-8 free throws in the final 1:28. There’s no one on that team to target with an intentional foul.

#7 Utah 92 #10 Arkansas 69 (Spokane)

If bookmakers were taking action on this game, I thought over-150 would’ve been an excellent wager, though I didn’t think it would happen by 90 points on one side, 60 on the other.

While winning their first NCAA tournament game since 2009, the Utes broke, tied, or approached all manner of school records during NCAA play. 92 points and 15 treys are new team records. I suggested that you to pay attention to senior Dru Gylten; her 11 assists is a new record. Sophomore forward Kelsey Rees made her first double of the season with 11 and 10, and zero fouls. The player of the game was sophomore forward Kennady McQueen: 20 points (6-of-9 3FG plus 2-of-2 FT), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal in 21 minutes.

In the aforementioned bracket, I’ve got Utah winning the national championship, beating #2 Texas, #3 LSU, #1 Stanford, #2 Connecticut, and #1 South Carolina. Seriously, why not. I said Utah is scratching the surface of what they can do; who can say they won’t beat five teams in the Associated Press top 10.


#1 Stanford 78 #16 Montana St. 37

At which I saw three things I’ve never seen before:

  • Montana St. didn’t score in the first quarter; it was the first such shutout Stanford has ever pitched.
  • Hannah Jump missed three consecutive 3-point attempts. She made two, missed three, hit two, and the universe was back in order. Jump finished 5-of-11, the game’s high scorer with 15 points.
  • Stanford’s forecourt tag team of sophomore Cameron Brink and junior Fran Belibi scored 23 points, got 22 rebounds, blocked 6 shots. The play that the nation will see on ESPN SportsCenter and social media outlets was Belibi’s steal-breakaway-dunk.

Maples Pavilion was half-full, yet I’ve never heard so much noise in that place, while the Stanford bench was jumping. Put me in the humbug camp that sees a dunk as no better than a layup, but the Belibi dunk is viral content, and women’s basketball needs all the viral content it can muster.

Stanford’s next opponent is #8 Kansas, who beat #9 Georgia Tech 77-58. The Jayhawks played aggressive defense, while the Yellowjackets did not.

04Van Gytenbeek,Jana-1.1

NCAA first round games

#5 Oregon vs. #12 Belmont (Wichita)

Pac-12 at-large
NET: 12
Neutral floors: 2-3
Best win: 19 Arizona
Worst loss: 53 Oregon St.
What I know: I said the Ducks have looked vulnerable when they don’t play together. Coach Graves said the team has been up and down, so I reckon we’re in some agreement. They’re big and strong, but they look play with finesse; paradoxically, opponents can disrupt the Ducks by beating them up. The Ducks don’t have a deep bench; I couldn’t name their #7.

Pay attention to: Junior forward Sedona Prince. Prince is getting headlines this week because it was her reporting that broke last year’s news about the inequity of the conditions between men’s and women’s teams. It’s an unusual spotlight she’s under.

Ohio Valley tournament
NET: 50
Neutral floors: 2-0
Best win: 24 Ole Miss
Worst loss: 182 Austin Peay
What I know: They mussed my bracket last year by beating 5-seed Gonzaga in the first round. Arkansas, Utah’s first-round opponent this year, crushed the Bruins while taking good care of the ball.

#7 Colorado vs. #10 Creighton (Greensboro)

Pac-12 at large
NET: 29
Neutral floors: 4-2
Best win: 19 Arizona
Worst loss: 53 Oregon St.
What I know: Colorado is one of those odd teams that gets better with early substitutions, junior forward Quay Miller is sixth man of the year, while freshman guard Kindyll Miller made the all-defense team. Oregon and Colorado have a lot in common: best wins were vs. Arizona; worst losses vs. Oregon St.; both teams were up and down (Colorado won a bunch, lost some, resumed winning). At conference tournament time, I labeled the Buffaloes “the team no one wanted to play”, and they got as far as Stanford (where the irresistable force met the immovable object). I think Colorado could beat almost anyone, but their first opponent and the likely-next opponent are among the highest-scoring in the land.

Pay attention to: Kindyll Wetta. She usually seems to be in the right place, and she makes fewer mistakes than the average freshman.

Big East at large
NET: 32
Neutral floors: 0-1
Best win: 47 Arizona St.
Worst loss: 91 Seton Hall
What I know: The Blue Jays were 2nd in the Big East standings almost all the way, but lost to DePaul on senior night. Then they lost to Seton Hall in the first round of the tournament (the superstition about heavy odds against beating the same team three times was in effect). Creighton is capable of huge offense, but Colorado is equally capable on defense.

#1 Stanford vs. #16 Montana St. (Spokane)

Pac-12 season and tournament
NET: 3
Neutral floors: 5-1
Best win: 14 Maryland
Worst loss: 40 South Florida
What I know: They’re Stanford, winners of 20 in a row. Last year, they had a store of magic pixie dust to help them win the national championship; this year, they look determined to win most convincingly, without supernatural assistance. Curse the selection committee for putting them in the same region as Utah; naturally, I was hoping for that as the national final rather than the round of eight.

Pay attention to: Sophomore forward Cameron Brink. The player of the year voting might be one of those cases where two teammates (Brink and Haley Jones) steal votes from each other, while South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston wins it. Brink sort of reminds me of Kareem; like a spindly Gulliver stepping around Lilliputians before laying hers up or swatting theirs away. The difference is that Kareem kept his emotions well hidden, whereas Brink lets it fly. I didn’t think Stanford could find a forward I like more than Jayne Appel or Brooke Smith.

Montana St.
Big Sky tournament
NET: 164
Neutral floors: 2-1
Best win: 141 Montana
Worst loss: 229 Weber St.
What I know: One of the reasons to be glad about Stanford winning last year was that it buries 1998’s loss as #1 to #16 Harvard deeper in the past, and the thought of such happening again shan’t cross anyone’s mind. In junior guard Darian White, the Bobcats have a first-team Big Sky all-conference player who shared the defensive player of the year award. Montana St. also has a senior forward named Kola Bad Bear, and I applaud everyone in her family tree who didn’t think to change their name.

#7 Utah vs. #10 Arkansas (Spokane)

Pac-12 at large
NET: 27
Neutral floors: 4-2
Best win: 12 Oregon
Worst loss: 74 Southern California
What I know: For improving by 15 wins over last year, reaching the conference tournament final for the first time, and returning to the NCAA tournament after more than 10 years, Utah might’ve said ‘We’re just happy to be here’, but in fact, the Utes are only now finding out what they can do. In November, I watched them play fast enough to drop 211 points on 291 Lipscomb and 246 Xavier. They’ve learned from a tournament record 29-point quarter against 58 Washington State that they can do it against other NCAA tourney teams.

Pay attention to: Senior guard Dru Gylten. Unselfish to a fault. In Utah’s three wins during the Pac-12 tournament, she scored 0, 0, and 3 points. Those three were vital to make up a 10-point deficit vs. Oregon; otherwise I think 0 0 0 (when chessplayers see 0 0 0, they reflexively think “castled queenside”) would’ve suited her. Utah coach Roberts told me when Gylten came in as a freshman that she’d become my favorite player. Sum Gylten’s leadership, character, and temperament — not found in the boxscore — with uncanny court vision plus passing ability, and you get a player whose career I do not wish to see end 16 hours from now.

Southeast Conference at large
NET: 30
Neutral floors: 2-1
Best win: 21 LSU
Worst loss: 77 Vanderbilt

Arkansas is in their second straight NCAA tournament. The Razorbacks are plenty responsible for putting Missouri (the only team to beat South Carolina) in the WNIT, beating the Tigers three times (overtime in round one of the SEC tournament). Like Utah, Arkansas placed three representatives on the postseason honor rolls, including the freshman of the year. Like Utah, Arkansas led their conference in scoring. Arkansas’ halfcourt is five-out, zero-in while Utah is four-out, one-in. The only five-out system to which I can compare Arkansas is UC Davis in the Big West; the Razorbacks run longer pass routes, if that makes sense.

This could be the highest-scoring game of the first round, and it’s important as far as each conference’s bragging rights go. The Pac=12 sent six teams, the SEC sent eight. Until the games are played, the ACC is winning that contest, with eight teams in, two of which are #1 seeds.

Oregon St. 70, Long Beach St. 59

Oregon State overcame a nearly-flawless start by the visiting Long Beach State 49ers, and won 70-59 in a first-round WNIT game.

The 49ers did not commit a turnover for the first 15:35 of the game, while sophomore guard Kianna Hamilton-Fisher shot 4-of-4 3-point field goals in the first quarter. Hamilton-Fisher had her best game of the season, making highs in points, rebounds, and steals. LBSU led 26-16 after one.

Long Beach St. led by as many as 15 in the first quarter. Oregon St. sophomore forward Kennedy Brown entered with 4:49 remaining, and sparked their comeback with 6 points, 7 rebounds, one block and one steal. At halftime, the LBSU lead was cut to 35-30. Brown finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, her first double of the season.

The lead changed hands five times in the third quarter, and the score was tied at 45-45 at 2:47. The Beavers scored 15 of the game’s next 18 points, holding throughout the fourth.

Oregon St. was the first Pac-12 team to play in either national tournament. UCLA begins WNIT play against UC Irvine Friday, while Stanford, Colorado, and Utah get started in the NCAA tournament.

Long Beach St.
Oregon St.
22von Oelhoffen,Talia0.1