Women's Basketball Week In Preview: Looking At The Buckeyes

Before you read about Ohio St., enjoy watching highlights of Cal's impressive win over Santa Clara. You can also watch highlights of Cal's win over St. Marys here.

You'll notice an extra 'P' in the title this week. Usually my article each week on women's basketball focuses on what happened in Cal's most recent games. But last week Cal beat two teams that they were supposed to beat. They were solid performances (particularly the defensive effort against Santa Clara), but the biggest news this week is that the Bears will be taking on undefeated, #12/14 in the nation Ohio St. in a marquee non-conference match-up. So we're going to shake things up a little bit and talk about next week instead of last week.

I don't want to overstate the importance of this one game, but a victory would mean a great deal to Cal. Waaaay back when the schedule was released I said that getting two wins out of the four games against Rutgers, Texas, Virginia and Ohio St. would be a pretty solid result. As it stands the Bears are 1-2 against their toughest non-conference opponents, all of which appear to be equally good, if not better, than anticipated to start the year. A loss to Ohio St. wouldn't be disastrous, but a win would be a huge boost to Cal's NCAA resume.

As is always the case, the Pac-10/12 schedule won't do Cal many favors when Selection Sunday rolls around. There's a reason that Stanford schedules teams like UConn and Tennessee every year - they need to prove how good they are before Pac-12 play to ensure a high seed. Cal needs to do the same, and this is their chance.

So what are Cal's chances against Ohio St.? Hit the jump and we'll break down the Buckeyes!

Expectations were slightly lower for Ohio State to begin the year because dominant, 6'4'' center Jantel Lavender graduated, along with double digit scorer Brittany Johnson. There was still talent, but the type of talent that would allow the Buckeyes to compete for a Big 10 title and stay ranked in the top 15 like they did during the Lavender era?

Well, evidently yes. Coach Jim Foster has reinvented the Buckeyes, turning them from a post-oriented team to a guard-oriented team. The duo of senior Samantha Prahalis and junior Tayler Hill have combined to average 39.5 points/game and both are shooting the lights out from the field. Prahilis also averages an obscene 7 assists per game, and her assist rate is 9th in the country (but one spot behind Brittany Boyd!).

After Prahalis and Hill, OSU's most important player is probably 6'5'' sophomore center Ashley Adams, who will be battling Cal's bigs for rebounds all game. She also chips in 7 points per game and is a pretty good shot blocker (duh, she's 6'5''). She might be the key player for Ohio St. - they need her to be a presence inside so that Cal doesn't dominate the inside like they want.

What do the stats say?

Chart concept borrowed from MGoBlog, all stats courtesy of wbbstate.com and are accurate as of 12/14. Stat glossary found here. One letter indicates 10 place advantage in national rankings, two letters indicate 100 place advantage, three indicates 200 place advantage, etc.

Category Cal Ranking OSU Ranking Advantage
Cal eFG% v. OSU Def eFG% 67 40 O
Cal Def eFG% v. OSU eFG% 88 7 O
Cal TO% v. OSU Def TO% 230 204 O
Cal Def TO% v. OSU TO% 242 21 OOO
Cal Reb% v. OSU Reb% 3 173 CC
Cal FTR v. OSU Opp FTR 134 12 OO
Cal Opp FTR v. OSU FTR 79 11 O
Cal O-PPP v. OSU D-PPP 50 60 C
Cal D-PPP v. OSU O-PPP 61 6 O

At first glance the stats look hideous - Ohio St. appears to have the advantage almost across the board. But one important stat needs to be mentioned: Strength of schedule. As of Wednesday night, Cal has played the 47th toughest schedule in the nation. Ohio St.'s schedule strength is ranked 193rd. That's a pretty big difference, but not surprising when you realize that the Buckeyes only beaten two teams with a current record above .500: 5-3 LSU and 4-3 Oklahoma.

Since none of these stats are strength-of-schedule-adjusted, they have to be viewed with the knowledge that OSU has played more bad teams and racked up more lopsided victories. Honestly, when I looked closer I actually started to like the matchup for two reasons:

1. Ohio St. hasn't been great at forcing turnovers, Cal's clear Achilles' Heal on offense.
2. Ohio St.'s one weakness is rebounding, which is one factor Cal is guaranteed to exploit.

What the game will likely boil down to is this: Cal's perimeter defense and Ohio St.'s interior defense. Ohio St. has two guards that can do it all - they shoot well from everywhere on the court, they pass the ball well and they don't turn it over. If Cal's guards can just slow them down a little the Bears have a great chance.

Conversely, Ohio St. just doesn't have the same talent and depth on the block that Cal does, and the Bears will no doubt try to exploit that advantage. But if the Buckeyes can deny them the ball, play sound interior defense and otherwise force Cal's guards to beat them, they'll have a great chance of winning.

It should be a great game and a great contrast of styles (Cal's up-tempo, post-oriented offense vs. Ohio St.'s slow-it-down, guard-oriented offense), and I can't wait to watch. I hope to see as many of you at the game as possible!

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