Taking a Look at This Year vs Last
As the Louisville' women's basketball hiatus continues through at least Christmas, and maybe even the New Year, I felt it was a good time to look at how this team compares to last year's at this stage. Many people thought last year's team was good enough to contend for a national title. Many more people think this year's team has the chops. Let's take a look at how the two teams stack up against each other to this point. In an effort to maintain consistency, I'll be cherry picking the games from last year's schedule to try to get a representative sample that is comparable to this year. I can't just pick the first four games and call it a day because of the ease of the opening schedule. Similarly, I can't just pick the four games leading up to the conference season because then last year's team will have a month's worth of games as a head start. (Note from future Case: To be clear, I didn't look at any stats and barely at scores before selecting these games. They are selected based on comparison to schedule state and game-to-game comparability as noted below.)
The games I've selected from the 2019-2020 season for this comparison are Western Kentucky, Murray State, Oregon, UT Martin, and Syracuse. The first two are the opening two games on the schedule. Unfortunately, we didn't have a comparable early road game, so a home game against Western will have to do as the comparison to SEMO. Last year's Oregon team was quite a bit better than this DePaul team, but Louisville didn't play another ranked neutral site game last season, and the closest ranked team would be Kentucky. A rivalry game is comparable only to rivalry. UT Martin was a non-conference game following a ranked game (DePaul this year and Kentucky last), and Syracuse was the first conference game. The home/away split for UT Martin and the conference game are reversed for the years so I'd say they cancel out.
Both teams through our segment are 5-0 (2019-2020 team was 12-1 at this point with a loss at Ohio State following the big Oregon win), but the victories are very different. Louisville's average margin of victory this season is 15 points larger than last year's selected segment. Primarily, that is coming from Louisville's scoring, which is up nearly 20 points per game (89.8 in 20-21 vs 71.2 in 19-20). Of course, Louisville is shooting the ball a lot better this year across the board. The Cards are shooting 4% better in every category when compared to our sample from last year.
Interestingly, Louisville's assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly identical year over year. The 2019-20 sample had an ATO of 1.18 with two negative games in the sample and this year's team has an ATO of 1.19 with two negative games so far. Even more interestingly, Louisville's assist numbers have risen by a couple of assists per game, while turnovers have been flat. This is likely best explained by an outlier ATO game against EKU (1.77) and an outlier turnover game against DePaul (22), but it is still interesting.
The improvements do not stop at the offensive end, though. Louisville's rebounding margin has gone up by about 7 rebounds per game, as the Cards have really gotten after it on the boards this year. Their worst performance so far is an even rebounding game against Duke. The worst from last year's sample is also the first conference game, when Louisville was out-rebounded by 6 against Syracuse. Perhaps the biggest (and most telling) change (other than the scoring margin) from year to year is Louisville's comparative defensive performance. I didn't chart opposing field goal percentage (though I can add that in the future), but I did look at blocks + steals for Louisville and their opponents. In last year's sample, Louisville's margin in blocks + steals per game was just 0.2. They were negative against Oregon and even against both UT Martin and Syracuse. So far this year, that average is at 9.6. Louisville's worst performances in this metric have been a pair of +5 games against UT Martin and Duke. For a team that is nearly flat in turnovers per game, this means that Louisville's defense has stepped up significantly to protect the rim and force steals.
In all, the jump in performance by this year's team appears to match statistically to what we've seen in the eye test. I'll be interested to see how this develops as the season goes on, and, in an effort to get a better representation of last year's team, I'll work in more of last season's non-conference games once this season's team gets more than five games under their belt. Seeing how Louisville performs when they come out of an extremely long break will be telling, but they look very good right now. From where I'm sitting, there seems to be plenty of reasons to be optimistic about a potential run in San Antonio.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
Last week, we added Daryl to the mix for the first time since we left the radio station. This week, the Skype call will be even more full (and my audio normalization will be even more tested) as we bring Jared back in as well. With the team still on hiatus, we won't have as much basketball to cover, but we'll still do our best to bring you the joy and excitement of UofL women's athletics. Plus, it's Christmas Week! We'll talk about some of our Christmas favorites as the holiday draws near. Tune in to the Cardinal Couple YouTube channel at 11AM EST for the live show, or check out the recording after we wrap up around noon. You can also check out the podcast here, where you can listen via anchor in your browser or find the link to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform to have the show pushed directly to your device when it posts.
Until next time, Go Cards!