Green Bay, Albany among women's UPS Index leaders primed for tourney upsets
You're unlikely to get much of an argument from any women's college basketball fan on the top seeds in this year's NCAA tournament. If you're looking for some potential bracket-busters, however, the UPS Team Performance Index highlights a number of lower-seeded schools which may very well end up injecting the usual chaos into March Madness.
As expected, Baylor, UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford will be at the head of the four regions, with Duke earning a No. 2 seed. Those teams also make up the top of the AP Top 25 and UPS Index, although in slightly varying orders.
After that, though, comes a long line of schools that should be labeled with a warning sign for their more highly regarded opponents as the first round gets underway this weekend.
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 341 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 against the competition they've faced.
Just behind the big guns at the front of the index are teams whose seeds do not match up with their season-long statistical efficiency. Specifically, Green Bay, Albany, Chattanooga, Liberty, Quinnipiac, Gonzaga and Hampton are squads from small conferences which finished the season within the index's top 25.
Green Bay (29-2) is the highest rated of that group at No. 6 - one spot behind Stanford. However, unlike the Cardinal, who got a No. 1 seed, the Phoenix had to settle for an 11 - not to mention a trip to Baton Rouge to essentially play a road game against LSU.
And while no one would favorably compare the Horizon League schedule to that of the Pac-12 or SEC, the fact is the Phoenix have been downright dominant against the teams they've had to play.
The lack of respect is not a problem for senior forward Sarah Eichler.
"We always have a chip on our shoulder going in, whether we get a good seed or a bad seed," she said. "We're used to having a target on our back, and it's nice to go into the tournament being an underdog and knowing that you're not expected to win and then being that shocking factor of that surprising team that does beat good teams."
Last year, Green Bay went 30-1 only to get a No. 7 seed. It went on to beat Iowa State before coming up just short against No. 2 seed Kentucky, proving that it could play with the major programs.
"I know that the Green Bay community here - the fans that surround this program - will probably think that we got slighted," senior guard Adrian Ritchie said. "It seems like every year, it's like, 'Why can't we get higher?' And you can think about that for a very short time, but literally there's no control over it now. We just know that little number next to your name doesn't win you a game."
That's a philosophy Albany (27-3) will be sure to keep in mind. The Great Danes had the biggest disparity between seed (14) and UPS rank (seven) in the tournament field. They come into the tourney as two-time champs of the America East - a conference in which they went undefeated this season to run their league win streak to 28, including postseason.
The senior-laden group will try to use the experience gleaned from last year's first-round loss to Texas A&M to take the next step when they face North Carolina.
"What they have done this year, that is impossible to do," coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. "It's because of our seniors. They just keep doing it. To do what they've done is remarkable."
Albany and Green Bay were the only schools within the index's top 10 which received double-digit seeds from the selection committee, but Chattanooga (UPS 11, 11 seed), Liberty (15, 13), Quinnipiac (16, 13), Gonzaga (17, 12) and Hampton (22, 15) are similarly primed to make some first-round noise this weekend.
About the only thing that seems to be certain is that the top teams continue to be in no danger early. While cross-referencing the index against tournament seeds shows that anything can happen in the middle of the regions, the extremes are consistent: in addition to near-unanimity at the top, the four 16 seeds are the lowest-rated teams in the UPS index.
"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," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "But I think all those teams between five and 12 are way better than they've ever been."
Starting Saturday, we'll all find out.