I was just mentioned on Twitter for predicting Rice as the top teams in the Conference USA before the season started by the moderator for r/NCAAW. I haven’t been able to follow the game too much the past couple of months due to real life stuff, but their success has been pretty shocking.
Because I didn’t include reasons as to why I thought the Owls would win the Con-USA, I thought I should talk about why this is happening now.
(Current season stats are from Her Hoop Stats).
- Erica Ogwumike is a beast. It’s easy to point at stuff like her 16.5 PPG and dominance on the glass (11.0 RPG). More telling on the offensive end is that she has an effective field goal percentage of 48.9%. That’s a solid number, but when you consider she’s doing that with one of the highest usage rates in the country (28.4%), it’s really impressive. *
- They also returned Nicole Iademarco, a solid wing player. Her 1.30 points per scoring attempt is second in the Conference USA. She’s doing that with a 20.5% usage rate, which isn’t ridiculously high but indicates she’s involved enough in the offense where that efficiency will actually make a difference for the team.
- They also added Nancy Mulkey, a transfer from Oklahoma. The center has really upped her game from her time as a Sooner: she’s leading the country in blocks per game at a disgusting 3.8 per. She also has a pretty high usage rate of 25.2%, and has kept her scoring efficient at a 58.9% effective field goal percentage.
- The most impressive thing the Owls have done as a team is tighten up their defense. This is likely helped by the fact that they only lost two players from last year who averaged 10+ MPG. HHS’s version of defensive rating shows them improving from 90.1 last year to 83.6 this year; that’s a jump from 106th nationally to 55th. Factors in this include decreasing their opponents’ three point rate (30.6% to 28.1%, an improvement of over 100 spots) and free throw rate (14.5% to 13.7%, moving from 55th to 40th nationally). Holding opponents to two point jump shots is a big part of a successful defense, especially when you don’t force a lot of turnovers – and Rice does not do that, ranking 324th in the country with just 13.1 turnovers forced per game.
* One concern I do have is that Erica’s three point shooting has fallen off badly from last year; ’17-’18: 54-143 (37.8%) in 32 games; ’18-’19: 26-88 (29.5%) in 23 games.