You don’t normally expect the best team in college basketball to win its opening round game by 61 points, only to see its chances of winning the women’s NCAA tournament drop. But that’s what happened to the Connecticut Huskies. Despite beating the Albany Great Danes 116 to 55 — for UConn’s 108th win in a row — our model showed the Huskies’ chances dropping from 52 percent pre-tournament to 49 percent after round 1.
How is this possible? In a word: Baylor.
Before the tournament, we identified Baylor as perhaps the biggest threat in years to UConn’s dominance. Then Baylor went ahead and utterly crushed Texas Southern. I mean, wow:
With a halftime score of 61-13, this box score looked like a rendering error. Texas Southern isn’t top competition, but performances that dominating are rare against anyone. The 89-point margin was the largest in NCAA history.
Moreover, though it was an extreme outcome, the game reflected Baylor’s strengths perfectly. The Lady Bears had the best per-possession defense in the NCAA this year. The Lady Tigers shot 13.8 percent from the field, including 4 of 38 (10.5 percent) from 2-point range. Baylor had the highest offensive and defensive rebounding percentages in the NCAA this season and out-rebounded Texas Southern 60-19 (gathering 18 of 29 possible rebounds on offense and 42 of 50 on defense). Finally, in addition to punishing defense and board-crashing, Baylor has shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range this season — also tops in the nation1 — and went 9 of 18 from 3-point range on Saturday night.
From our model’s perspective, Baylor’s chances increased from 23 percent to 32 percent, moving it past “the field” (everyone but UConn and Baylor) whose chances dropped to 19 percent (from 25 percent before the tournament began). The model currently gives around a 73 percent chance of Baylor and UConn facing each other in the Final Four. UConn won their only matchup this season, 72-61 last November.