Greenville Regional Preview
"It feels good just to keep dancing, keep advancing..." - D. Harden
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Interestingly enough, both of the Sweet 16 games in this regional are rematches of games from the regular season. Three of the four teams (Notre Dame, South Carolina and UCLA) also have representatives on the 28-player list of 2023 NCAA Tournament double-doubles.
1-seed South Carolina vs. 4-seed UCLA, Saturday at 2:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
South Carolina went into halftime in its second-round game against South Florida up just four. In the locker room, it wasn’t (just) Coach Dawn Staley who made the adjustments. Senior Brea Beal said the players were ”talking amongst each other before coach [came] in and just pointing out some things, some ideas we have, and just going out there and making that adjustment…” And they certainly did, proceeding to outscore the Bulls 43-16 in the second half. The Gamecocks’ Zia Cooke and Laeticia Amihere combined to outscore the Bulls by themselves in the second half.
It was a similar story for the Gamecocks in their first meeting with UCLA. South Carolina was actually down at half, but the Gamecocks rallied back to tie the score to end the third quarter and ended up winning by nine. The Bruins were just one of five teams this season to lose to South Carolina by single digits. UCLA Coach Cori Close said that in the handshake line after that game, Staley told her, “We will meet again.”
To get to the rematch with the Gamecocks, UCLA beat Oklahoma on Monday by nine and needed a strong fourth quarter after allowing a 13-point halftime lead to disappear. In both games, UCLA was led by Charisma Osborne. She had nine of the Bruins’ 17 points in the fourth quarter against South Carolina. In Monday’s win against Oklahoma, Osborne had a career-high 36, the most so far in this 2023 NCAA Tournament and the most ever by a UCLA player in postseason history.
In addition to its overall talent advantage, South Carolina is playing much closer to home. So the crowd will probably be on their side, which could play a role in the game’s outcome.
What our predictor thinks: With the game technically on a neutral floor, our predictor gives South Carolina a 95.2% chance to win, with a 20.4 point margin. With the game roughly 22 times closer to Colonial Life Arena in Columbia than it is to Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, we’re going to add that if we classified this as a home contest for the Gamecocks, their likelihood of winning goes up to 97.1% and the margin to 24.3.
2-seed Maryland vs. 3-seed Notre Dame, Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN
The first meeting was a two-point regular season Maryland win. The Terrapins prevailed 74-72 over Notre Dame in South Bend back on Dec. 1 on a Diamond Miller jumper y’all might remember:
Miller not only scored the winning basket for the Terrapins in the first matchup with Notre Dame, but she scored over half of the team’s points in the final quarter (13 out of 23). She ended the night with 31 points, plus 12 rebounds and five assists. As you’d expect from a Second Team AP All-American, Miller has led the way for Maryland all season, including its game to get to Greenville. In that Round of 32 game against Arizona, she scored 24, including 13 in the second half to dig the Terrapins out of their one-point halftime deficit. She is the only player in the country averaging at least 19 points, 6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, two steals, and a block per game this season (and one of only 14 to do it since HHS has been tracking). She will be the one at the top of the scouting report for the Fighting Irish.
Unfortunately, in this one, the Fighting Irish will be without all-everything player and AP Second Team member Olivia Miles, who contributed 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the two teams’ first matchup. Also missing from Notre Dame’s lineup will be Dara Mabrey, who played 35 minutes in the teams’ regular-season meeting and scored seven points to go along with three rebounds and two assists. The (really) good news for Notre Dame, is, despite getting blown out in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament by fellow Sweet 16 team Louisville, they’ve rallied to win their two NCAA Tournament games. Since Miles went down, Maddy Westbeld and Sonia Citron have generally been the scoring leaders for the Irish. Citron led the way on Sunday, too, but right behind her was Lauren Ebo, who added a Notre Dame NCAA Tournament-record 18 rebounds. Ebo is one of only four players with more than one double-double so far in this season’s NCAA Tournament.
Maryland was able to shut Ebo down in the Dec. 1 meeting, as she only managed one point and five rebounds. The Fighting Irish are a much better rebounding team than the Terrapins, and so will need a better performance from Ebo to capitalize on that advantage. On the flip side, Maryland is a much better 3-point shooting team than Notre Dame, thanks to Miller, Brinae Alexander and Abby Meyers. They can keep up with Westbeld and Citron from distance (although it’s unlikely those two will shoot 0% from three as they did on Sunday).
What our predictor thinks: It gives Maryland a 52.7% chance to win on a neutral floor (the XFINITY Center is roughly 100 miles closer to Bon Secours Wellness Arena, but it’s 500+ miles from both there and the Joyce Center), but the margin is just 0.8.
What our predictor says about the possible Elite Eight matchups:
Nearly opposite of its compatriot, this Greenville regional features one first-ever matchup and one that hasn’t happened in 19 years.
2-seed Utah vs. 3-seed LSU, Friday at 5:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
If you like offense, this is probably the game for you. LSU scores the fourth-most points in the country at 83.2 per game, and Utah is one spot ahead of them at 83.5. However, in their Round of 32 victories, neither broke 70.
After dispatching Michigan by 24, LSU Coach Kim Mulkey, in response to a question about whether her team “unlocked the next best version of themselves,” said that she thought the Tigers “grew up in two areas… rebounding and defense.” They will need both of those in their first-ever meeting with Utah.
The Utes make the 23rd-most three-pointers per game at 8.3, but in their game against Princeton, they made just one and still managed a seven-point victory. Further illustrating the fact that the Utes can score in a number of ways is the play of Alissa Pili. The Pac-12 Player of the Year scores 69.3% of her 21 points per game on 2-pointers, yet she still hits 3-pointers at a 42.4% clip.
Pili will have one of her toughest matchups of the season on Friday in LSU’s Angel Reese, who tied and/or set LSU records in the Tigers’ first two NCAA Tournament games. Her 34 points in the LSU victory over Hawai’i tied the Tigers’ single-game NCAA tournament scoring record set by Marie Ferdinand in 2001. She followed that up on Sunday against Michigan by scoring 25 and adding 24 rebounds, the latter was the third most in NCAA Tournament history and broke Sylvia Fowles’ LSU single-game NCAA tournament rebounding record of 20, set in the 2008 Final Four against Tennessee.
In addition to its off night from three, Utah had 20 turnovers against Princeton, 5.4 more than its season average It’s a stat that Coach Lynne Roberts called “uncharacteristic” in her postgame comments.
While it’s hard to say a team doesn’t have momentum on a two-game NCAA Tournament winning streak, it will be interesting to see if the Utah team that was in the “rock fight” single-digit victory can clean up its mistakes during its days off or whether this rolling LSU team can stay red-hot.
What our predictor thinks: This is technically a neutral-site game. Under those circumstances, our predictor gives LSU a 62.4% chance to win with a 4.3 point margin. But the Pete Maravich Assembly Center is nearly 3 times closer to Bon Secours Wellness Arena than the Huntsman Center. If we classified this as a home contest for the Tigers, their likelihood of winning goes up to 72% and the margin to 7.9.
4-seed Villanova vs. 9-seed Miami, Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The Wildcats and Hurricanes haven’t played since the latter left the Big East Conference after the 2003-2004 season. Miami will be looking to break an eight-game losing streak to Villanova.
Villanova and Miami have advanced to this point in different fashion. While the Wildcats have won their two NCAA Tournament games by an average of 18, the Hurricanes have done so by an average of 1.5 points. That said, it’s hard to have much more momentum than the U does after beating Indiana in Bloomington on an epic shot by graduate student Destiny Harden.
In that game, Miami senior Lola Pendande did a really good job on All-American Mackenzie Holmes, holding her to four first-half points on 2-of-9 shooting while contributing eight points to a 14-4 Hurricanes run to start the game. Those points became crucial, as although Miami never trailed in the contest, the Hurricanes scored only nine points in the third quarter.
They’ll need to score more than that in every quarter if they want to take down Villanova and its All-American, Naismith Player of the Year finalist leader Maddie Siegrist. The senior forward is the only player in the country averaging more than 28 points per game this season and only the fifth ever to score 1,000 points or more in a season. She needs 13 to pass (Southeast) Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles for second-most all-time, behind only Kelsey Plum’s 1,109. On a more relevant comparison scale, Siegrist’s 29.2 points per game is 4.5 points more than Miami’s two leading scorers, Haley Cavinder (12.6 PPG) and Harden (12.1), combined. In fact, the Wildcats’ second leading scorer, Lucy Olsen, trails Cavinder by just 0.1 PPG.
Speaking of starting fast or “punching first,” that’s exactly what Siegrist mentioned as a key to the Wildcats’ big victory over FGCU, in which Villanova got out to an 8-0 lead and blocked the Eagles’ first two shots. She added that “You can't look at anybody's record, what they're seeded, anything like that. Everybody's trying to win, and they're going to do whatever it takes.”
That advice will serve Villanova well as it takes on this semi-upstart but very upset-minded Miami team, whom Coach Katie Meier said she always tells to “act like [they’ve] been there before, but [they] haven't…” as it’s Miami’s first trip to the Sweet 16 in 31 years.
What our predictor says: With the game at a neutral site, our predictor gives Villanova a 76.4% chance to win, with an 8.2-point margin.
What our predictor says about the possible Elite Eight matchups:
Obviously, most people will be coming to Greenville to cheer on their specific team, but after writing all of this I hope that some people will come just to enjoy the really good basketball that should be going on starting Friday afternoon. After going to three great (and two LATE) games in Durham this past weekend, I get down there tonight, and I can’t wait. In the words of Aliyah Boston: “On to the next; here we go…”
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.