UConn's title-game rout gives snapshot into UPS Index offensive domination
Once again, Geno Auriemma and the Connecticut Huskies find themselves on top of the women's basketball world.
They also find themselves at the top of the UPS Team Performance Index, and it's a spot they may want to get comfortable with over the next few years - at least while Breanna Stewart is still around.
Coming off a 93-60 championship game rout over upstart Louisville on Tuesday night that showcased exactly why they are in a class by themselves, the Huskies edged Baylor for the No. 1 position in the season-ending index, followed by fellow heavyweights Notre Dame, Stanford and Duke.
One game after advancing to the final by getting revenge against a Fighting Irish team that handed it three of its four losses this season, UConn (35-4) inflicted its will against a clearly overmatched Cardinals squad that was looking to pull off the most unlikely run in tournament history.
The scariest part for the other 340 women's Division I teams? Stewart scored 104 points in only five tourney games - the most by a first-year player since 2000 - and the freshman has got plenty of help returning as she looks to keep the program running at its usual dominating level.
"We feel like all we can go is up from here," said sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who scored 18 points Tuesday. "We have so many young people and so many people with experience in a national championship game. That's only going to make us better."
In conjunction with STATS LLC, UPS has created a proprietary algorithm that gauges six major statistics covering the spectrum of a team's on-court performance: effective field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage against, rebounding percentage, ball-handling efficiency, miscues and winning percentage.
From there, the data is normalized and an overall index is created for all NCAA Division I teams. The scores are not meant to reflect a traditional power poll, per se, but measure a broad range of inside-the-lines excellence and overall balance.
All season long, the Huskies have been powered in the index by an offensive efficiency component that has been off the charts. With 100 being the average for all teams, they finished with a 160.5 in that particular microindex. That total is the highest of any score in any category, and the nearly 10-point gap between it and second-place Baylor (150.6) is the largest separation between schools in any microindex.
The component is calculated based off effective field-goal percentage, and Tuesday's performance was a perfect example of why UConn has mastered it all season long. It shot 35 of 66 from the field and 13 of 26 from 3-point range for an EFG of 62.9 percent.
For the season, Connecticut had an EFG of 56.2 - the highest percentage over a full season since Auriemma's 2008-09 team, which, coincidentally enough, beat Louisville in the national title game while shooting 56.9 percent that year.
At the head of that charge was Stewart, who went 9 of 15 from the field, including a 3-for-3 performance from behind the arc, leaving an impression on even some men's coaches.
"This is one of the best freshman in basketball," said Rick Pitino, fresh off his own national title with the Cardinals and on hand in New Orleans to root on the Louisville women.
While offense may have been their top strength, it was hardly the Huskies' only one. They also ranked third in defense, third in rebounding and first in ball-handling, creating a well-balanced attack that matured through the year and proved to be unstoppable once the tournament started: UConn won its six games by an average of 32.5 points.
Despite the fact that the Cardinals were outmatched in the title game, coach Jeff Walz finished the year with one of the most overachieving teams in the tournament's history. Louisville finished 37th in the index and came into the tourney with a No. 5 seed, only to eventually stun top-ranked Baylor, knock of perennial power Tennessee and beat California in the Final Four.
"The run we went on was remarkable and something I'll always remember," Walz said. "We're walking out with our head high and proud of what we've done."
In many ways, Auriemma's words before the tournament began came full circle, when he said, "To think that the rest of the field is going to catch up to Baylor or Notre Dame or the top four or five teams in the country this year is probably unrealistic. But I think all those teams between five and 12 are way better than they've ever been."
While the Cardinals came close by downing the Bears in arguably the biggest shocker in tournament history, whether those mid-level seeds - or anyone else for that matter - will be able to catch Connecticut over the next three years remains to be seen.
"Stewie certainly is different than any other college player that's playing right now," Auriemma said.
And that doesn't bode well for the rest of women's college basketball.