Sweet 16: Assessing the Dayton Region - Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Oklahoma Sooners

This is the second of a two-part series overviewing the women's basketball teams in the Dayton regional this weekend.  Notre Dame and Oklahoma are reviewed here; Tennessee and Ohio State were covered here.  It's not a side-by-side comparison, but a quick digest of the teams as a whole and what the average watcher should expect to see.

#2 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

Notre Dame is walking proof that you don't need tremendous size to succeed in women's basketball.  The tallest Irish player is 6'-3" Natalie Achowna, who averages 18 minutes off the bench, and the average size of Notre Dame is 5'-11".  This is the small, quick team that gives bigger teams fits because of their speed on defense.  Notre Dame has amassed 454 steals on the season, an average of 13 per game.  Steals are not the only way they get extra possession, however, as they also average 40.9 rebounds per game compared to their opponents' 32.3.  Between all turnovers (not just steals) and rebounds, the Irish average 13.5 extra possessions per game, which helps explain their 22 points average margin of victory.

Leading the Irish is 5'-9" sophomore guard Skylar Diggins, who is not the leading scorer on the team.  She averages 14.4 points per game, 4 rebounds per game, and 4.6 assists per game.  She is Notre Dame's primary ballhandler and is the girl who sets up the offense.  Their shooting guard, 5'-11" Natalie Novosel, leads the team with 14.9 points per game, and 71 total steals on the season.  Novosel is the primary three-point threat with 40.5% 3P shooting on the year, though Diggins and Brittany Mallory are dependable threats from the perimeter as well.  In the interior, 6'-2" forward Devereaux Peters provides the principle post threat with 11.8 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game.  She has 64 blocked shots on the year - a shade under 2 per game.

The key to beating Notre Dame is ball control; with their propensity for steals, Notre Dame has found their margin of victory in extra possessions rather than stifling defense or unstoppable offense (though they are pretty good at both ends of the floor).  Teams that turn the ball over 15 or more times against the Irish struggle to win, although some of that comes from the other teams simply being mismatched to Notre Dame's overall speed and agility.  In keeping with the possessions theme, Notre Dame rebounds with passion and tends to do better on the boards than their size would indicate.  Taller teams can outrebound the Irish but must be absolutely committed to doing so, or Notre Dame will beat them with effort.

When watching Notre Dame, watch how much they value possessions.  That's the storyline for the Irish from tipoff to final horn.

#6 OKLAHOMA SOONERS

The Sooners upset three-seed Miami in the round of 32 to qualify for their third Sweet Sixteen in a row.  This year's Sooners team is one of the more difficult to place within the hierarchy of teams in the NCAA, as their propensity for close games has given them a 23-11 record that could as easily be 27-7 as it could be 20-14.  Much of their swings in performance this year have been brought on by injury, as star guard Whitney Hand missed more than a third of the season with a knee injury and still wears a brace for extra support.  But as was noted against Miami on Tuesday, Oklahoma is just as capable of a high game as a low game, and can be a potential upset in the making for any team they face.

On offense, the team is led by guards Danielle Robinson, Aaryn Ellenbery, and Whitney Hand, who averaged 18.4, 16.5, and 12.2 points per game respectively.  The interior is anchored by sophomore center Joanna McFarland, who leads the team with 6.5 rebound per game in 18 minutes per game of action, as well as forward Carlee Roethlisberger, sister of that Roethlisberger and the primary interior player in terms of minutes per game.  While Oklahoma has considerable size, most of their bigs are underclassmen who come in for spot duty, and the Sooners tend to run a passing-oriented 4-guard style of offense.  Despite the number of veteran guards, the Sooners prefer a halfcourt style of play, though they are not as possession stubborn as Ohio State.

Defensively, Oklahoma likes to play aggressively and very physically.  Despite their often smaller stature on the court, they average almost 20 fouls per game and have had a total of 21 foulouts on the season.  While that aggression has hurt them in close games, it has also paid dividends by allowing a smaller team to keep up with some of the larger teams in conference.  For those who prefer wilder, more emotional basketball than the brands promoted by Notre Dame and Ohio State, Oklahoma should provide considerable enjoyment.

The key to beating Oklahoma is to not get sucked into their style of play.  They may have a large number of fouls, but they are very good at luring opponents into the same foul trouble.  This is the reason that Oklahoma likes to play deep into their bench throughout a game; they can wear down an opposing starting unit, get them in foul trouble, and play for the lead at the end of the game.  If an opponent runs a six-man roster at them and gets drawn into the physicality of an Oklahoma style of game, they may find themselves with two or three bench players on the floor during the crucial final minutes of a game.  Keep the key players out of foul trouble, keep the heads level on the court, and Oklahoma is a beatable team; let Oklahoma get inside your head, and the endgame can be very unpleasant.

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