The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, December 16, 2020
Paige Bueckers AND Caitlin Clark — Kellie Harper talks Lady Vols hoops — Must-click women's basketball links
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Before we start: I wrote about Tara VanDerveer below, there’s a link to it. I want to congratulate her for not only a milestone win, but for all she has done to turn the women’s game into the juggernaut it is today.
There was a school of thought, entering the 2020-21 season, that maybe Paige Bueckers wouldn’t be quite as dominant as people thought.
After all, she’s never played at the collegiate level before. She doesn’t yet possess pro size or strength. It is reasonable, maybe even likely, to expect some growing pains, despite her ample talent, right?
Here’s Geno Auriemma on Tuesday night, after Bueckers put up 25 points on 14 shots with five assists and four rebounds: “She’s just good. Some people are just good. She’s just good.”
To watch her is to understand that her gifts of court vision, of knowing when to attack, the ability to deliver passes in ridiculously tight spots and the unwillingness to take a single play off make her one of the elite talents in America already.
She’s absolutely at the high end of what were unfair expectations so far. And yet: she is not the shoo-in for Freshman of the Year.
It’s way too early to make these calls based on stats (and a schedule with plenty of potholes ahead might make stats imperfect even by March), but Bueckers is averaging 21 points per game on 76 percent shooting. But Caitlin Clark, taking on the lion’s share of both scoring and distributing in Iowa, is at 29.8 points per game through five games. She’s only shooting 48.6 percent from the field (LOL ONLY) but she’s taking nearly 10 threes per game, so that effective field goal percentage is at 57 percent, and her usage rate of 40 percent would make Chennedy Carter blush. Her assist percentage is ALSO 40 percent. Iowa offense IS Caitlin Clark.
Haley Van Lith of Louisville and Te-Hina Paopao of Oregon are both stellar freshmen who’d be in the conversation during a normal season. And there’s still a long way to go! But it sure looks to me like we have two transcendent figures who have entered the game.
Already, we’re seeing fault lines in how fans respond to their coverage. There’s a general belief that UConn is overcovered relative to the rest of college basketball, and there’s some truth to that: UConn is blessed to have a significant traveling press corps covering it, people like Alexa Philippou on the beat and columnists like Mike Anthony, a true major league depth to the stories. UConn also has a TV deal with SNY that includes pregame, postgame and associated TV content from the great Maria Marino. And Bristol, ESPN’s headquarters, happens to be in Connecticut, too.
This is not, however, an argument for reducing the UConn coverage. It means those covering the rest of the country must step up, and UConn can be a model for what is possible when women’s programs are covered like elite men’s teams are. We’ve seen it happen in some other markets, too. There just needs to be more.
In the meantime: it’s not Paige Bueckers’ fault that she’s going to keep on getting that attention. She should get that attention. This is a success story, both that she’s this great, this soon, and we’re going to know about it in granular detail.
But do as I do and subscribe to Big Ten Network so you don’t miss a minute of Clark, either. More is more. Let’s keep expanding without throwing shade at the program that can and should, in a variety of ways, provide a model for the way forward.
A special message from Jackie Powell
Hey all, this is for something I’m working for on the Liberty beat. I’d really appreciate it if you could fill this out and send this to anyone who a) really follows the W, b) has insights or C) really can use something to procrastinate with.
This week in women’s basketball
Elena Delle Donne has the largest number of win shares of any professional woodworker.
There’s always a women’s basketball angle, and the Biden administration’s senior hires story is no different.
Lindsay Schnell talks to Kara Lawson and Niele Ivey about Black voices in women’s basketball and much more.
Gabe Ibrahim runs down how WNBA GMs and coaches are looking at the free year of NCAA eligibility in terms of the draft.
I wrote about Oregon at FiveThirtyEight. (Spoiler: they are very good.)
This is a fun trip through Tara’s career, from Michelle Smith.
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Five at The IX: Kellie Harper, Tennessee head coach
I spoke to Kellie, along with other media members, Wednesday, ahead of Thursday’s game against Indiana. It is a signature early-season matchup, and I hope very, very much it doesn’t get nixed right after I send this out. Anyhow, Kellie is always great to speak with, regardless.
On how the game against Indiana came about:
“At the beginning of the season when we put our schedule out publicly, we knew we were still one game short of a full schedule. We knew that we could add a game during the season. This was the week we wanted to try to add it. We had a game that Stanford was not able to come and play, so we wanted a really good opponent there. We’re very fortunate that Indiana had an opening there at the same time. We were able to get with them, communicate that and make this happen.”
On how the team has bounced back from traveling to Texas and having the game canceled so close to game time:
“It was actually a pretty big blow, to be honest. Players were getting taped. The coaching staff was getting ready. I think we had less than an hour before departing to the gym when we found out. That was tough. We were sitting on go. You build up and do everything leading up to game time. You’re getting ready to peak for game time, and then it doesn’t happen. That’s a big blow. Now, on the flip side, we’re all healthy. We had a safe trip out there. We had a safe trip back. At times like these, it’s easy to really dial in and look at that one little thing, but I think it’s important that we look at the big picture and realize that we’re OK. It’s just part of what we have to do. Honestly, it was a little somber coming home. The trip was a little quiet. At the next practice that we had, we had to get them geared back up and say, ‘This is part of it. That’s in the past; we’re moving forward and have to attack what’s in front of us.’ I think it’s important that we try to remember the big picture in these moments.”
On the challenge Indiana poses:
“They are really good and an excellent basketball team. They don’t do anything tricky. There’s no gimmick to it. They line up and guard you. They line up and score against you. They have a balanced attack. They have solid play. They’re intelligent, very physical and very intense. Coach (Teri) Moren has done an excellent job at Indiana. At my prior stop at Missouri State, we were able to play Indiana, so I understand what this team is all about. They’re going to be a difficult opponent for our team, but it’s a great opportunity to go up there and play against this type of basketball team. That’s the way we’re approaching it and getting our players as prepared as possible.”
On the veteran play of the nine seniors for Jackson State:
“In terms of Jackson State, I haven’t turned my attention to them as of yet, but I know they’re going to come in here competitively and ready to win. I know that. I think that’s the game that coaches look at every year – the game right before Christmas. You want to make sure that they don’t go on Christmas break before that game. They go on Christmas break after that game. Once we get through our Indiana game and have some opportunities to practice back here, we’ll discuss that and make sure we get our players focused for that last game.”
On Tennessee’s defense and the challenge Indiana poses:
“I think, in terms of our defense, it’s hard to take one person out. It’s hard to double team somebody because they’re just so solid across the board. They have a lot of people that can do things with the basketball. They really get to the paint. I think their guards play downhill. They make good decisions going downhill. They can score off the jumper. I think that’s one of their strengths. You can’t sit in the paint because they can knock down some threes as well. You can’t help off post players. They can shoot, and they can score. Obviously, their leading scorer right now is a post player. They’ve just got great balance. I think it’s just a challenge for us because there’s not a lot of gimmicks (and) not a lot of trickiness that you can do. You just literally have to line up and guard. You just have to guard. It’s got to be important to you.”
On whether the game against Indiana could turn into a series:
“It’s something we’ll talk about. I’m probably working on a home-and-home with them now, this year, and get them back down next year. We’ll see after that. Things are just so different this year. You’ve got to get through this year and then process the years in the future.”
On Thursday’s starting lineup:
“We had talked about some things even before the Texas game, so we’ll go into practice today and kind of make that decision coming out of practice. For me, the starting lineup, I know it’s a big deal to a lot of people, but it’s not to me. I think more importantly for us we’ve got to get our team ready to play, and that’s more than just five kids. We’ve got to be able to play our bench up at Indiana to give us an opportunity.”
On Rennia Davis’ shooting:
“I, personally, don’t have a concern about her going out and knocking down shots. Whatever game we go out and play, I feel like she is going to go out and make baskets. I think that’s just how much confidence we have in her. I understand that she may not shoot great next game. I don’t know when that’s going to happen. Our concern is that she’s going to be able to play through it. That’s going to be the greater concern. I don’t concern myself with what she’s doing, because it’s going to be fine. I have great confidence there. We’ve got to continue to help her feel good about taking those shots because our team needs her to.”