Are Bigs Necessary? Lessons From the WNBA

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I'm glad that UConn has ONO and will have Piath Gabriel after this season. I hope that the Huskies sign one or two more "bigs" in the 2021 class. But I do think that team size can be overrated, and I think some observations from WNBA play support that view.

Look at the two teams who are now competing for the WNBA championship. The Washington Mystics have exactly one player in their starting lineup taller than 6-2 (that would be EDD; note that Emma Meesseman doesn't start). In the semifinals, they just beat a team (Las Vegas) that had 6-8 and 6-5 in their starting lineup (Cambage and A'ja Wilson) who weren't exactly athletic slouches.

The Mystics' opponent in the WNBA finals is the Connecticut Sun, who have 6-6, 6-4, and 6-2 in their starting lineup, but are not really a big team by WNBA standards. Jonquel Jones, their 6-6 center, is backed up by a 6-2 player with the same last name. When she plays, the Sun are really small. And JJ herself, while tall, is something of a stringbean compared to the burly centers that she usually faces (though not against the Mystics), not unlike ONO. But she certainly gets her share of rebounds at both ends of the court.

Both the Mystics and the Sun have been able to win a ton of games this season, including against big teams like Las Vegas, the LA Sparks, and the Chicago Sky.

What's the point for UConn? Assuming (just hypothetically) that Evelyn turns out to be the 5th starter, UConn's front court this year will be 6-5, 6-2 and 6-1 -- none of whom are unathletic. That is essentially comparable to the size of the front court of the two best teams in the WNBA, and they have to play against stiffer (and bigger) competition than UConn will face in the coming season. The fact that teams such as Oregon will be somewhat taller does not (by itself) mean that they should be favored in games against UConn.

Ah, you say, but what about Brown and Cox last year helping Baylor to win the NC? I honestly think that if Azura had stayed and played for UConn last season, and had remained healthy, they would have been undefeated heading into the tournament and favored to win the NC, and probably would have won. Certainly in a 5-game series against Baylor, there would have been a 60-70% chance of UConn winning such a (very hypothetical) series.

Height is relevant, but a reasonably sized team with athletes and good coaching can prevail over a team which is comparably talented and somewhat taller.
 

Orangutan

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Both the Mystics and the Sun have been able to win a ton of games this season, including against big teams like Las Vegas, the LA Sparks, and the Chicago Sky.
The Sun start 6'6 Jones, 6'2 Stricklen, and 6'2 Thomas. Compare to the Sky starting 6'5 Dolson, 6'4 Lavender, and 6'1 DeShields. My math gives me 226 total inches for each of those frontcourts. I'm not sure how the Sky are a "big team" but the Sun aren't. I would say both are around normal by WNBA standards

The Mystics are not especially big as configured in the starting lineup but 6'4 Meesseman usually plays as much or more than the starter, 6'2 Sanders. Washington often plays Meesseman and 6'5 EDD together. They're not huge like Las Vegas but they're not small either.

Jones is 6'6 and led the league in rebounds and blocks this year. She may not be built like a truck but she's the height of a center and she dominates in the areas elite centers dominate.

Meanwhile, EDD is not only the best power forward in the league but the best player in the league this year overall. And while her offensive prowess gets the attention she was also an elite defensive rebounder, finishing 4th in defensive rebound percentage.

I'm just not sure I see the team with the best PF in the league going against the team with the best Center in the league as any triumph of small ball.

However, I do take the point that you don't necessarily need to be a huge team like Baylor to win. However, this ought to be obvious from 2018 Notre Dame winning with 6'3 Shepard and 6'1 Westbeld in the frontcourt (I believe they listed Shepard at 6'4 and Westbeld at 6'2, but those were inflated, imo).

You do typically need one exceptional frontcourt player to win a championship but that player doesn't necessarily have to be giant like Griner or Kalani Brown.

In fact, I think 2019 Baylor are actually something of an anomaly. A "twin towers" approach has the drawback of creating poor offensive spacing. I think it worked for Baylor because Cox and Brown could hit the midrange shot regularly and because Cox is an exceptional passer. But it didn't work for Vegas. Cambage and Wilson were typically most effective when the other was not on the floor.
 
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The Sun start 6'6 Jones, 6'2 Stricklen, and 6'2 Thomas. Compare to the Sky starting 6'5 Dolson, 6'4 Lavender, and 6'1 DeShields. My math gives me 226 total inches for each of those frontcourts. I'm not sure how the Sky are a "big team" but the Sun aren't. I would say both are around normal by WNBA standards

The Mystics are not especially big as configured in the starting lineup but 6'4 Meesseman usually plays as much or more than the starter, 6'2 Sanders. Washington often plays Meesseman and 6'5 EDD together. They're not huge like Las Vegas but they're not small either.

Jones is 6'6 and led the league in rebounds and blocks this year. She may not be built like a truck but she's the height of a center and she dominates in the areas elite centers dominate.

Meanwhile, EDD is not only the best power forward in the league but the best player in the league this year overall. And while her offensive prowess gets the attention she was also an elite defensive rebounder, finishing 4th in defensive rebound percentage.

I'm just not sure I see the team with the best PF in the league going against the team with the best Center in the league as any triumph of small ball.

However, I do take the point that you don't necessarily need to be a huge team like Baylor to win. However, this ought to be obvious from 2018 Notre Dame winning with 6'3 Shepard and 6'1 Westbeld in the frontcourt (I believe they listed Shepard at 6'4 and Westbeld at 6'2, but those were inflated, imo).

You do typically need one exceptional frontcourt player to win a championship but that player doesn't necessarily have to be giant like Griner or Kalani Brown.

In fact, I think 2019 Baylor are actually something of an anomaly. A "twin towers" approach has the drawback of creating poor offensive spacing. I think it worked for Baylor because Cox and Brown could hit the midrange shot regularly and because Cox is an exceptional passer. But it didn't work for Vegas. Cambage and Wilson were typically most effective when the other was not on the floor.
Exactly. Washington plays the twin towers of Meeseman and EDD together for much of the game, and the one relieves and complements the other. Jonquil Jones is one of the emerging greats.

And let's not forget that two other teams that went deep into the playoffs included some of the greatest front court players of all time, including Liz Cambage, A'ja Wilson, Dearica Hamby, and the Ogwumikes.

The WNBA playoffs are all about magnificent front court players, complemented by excellent guards.
 
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I am a huge Mystics fan (for context). With J. Jones in the line up they were (for most of the game) the better team. She was a ‘Shaq’ type player and could back the defender down and rebound. Unfortunately, for the Sun, they forgot about her for most of the 4th quarter. EDD and Meeseman are 6’5” and great players. Wouldn’t you have liked to have her on your college team?—EDD needs no endorsement.
I’ll take an athletic big as a cornerstone anyway.
 
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I'm glad that UConn has ONO and will have Piath Gabriel after this season. I hope that the Huskies sign one or two more "bigs" in the 2021 class. But I do think that team size can be overrated, and I think some observations from WNBA play support that view.

Look at the two teams who are now competing for the WNBA championship. The Washington Mystics have exactly one player in their starting lineup taller than 6-2 (that would be EDD; note that Emma Meesseman doesn't start). In the semifinals, they just beat a team (Las Vegas) that had 6-8 and 6-5 in their starting lineup (Cambage and A'ja Wilson) who weren't exactly athletic slouches.

The Mystics' opponent in the WNBA finals is the Connecticut Sun, who have 6-6, 6-4, and 6-2 in their starting lineup, but are not really a big team by WNBA standards. Jonquel Jones, their 6-6 center, is backed up by a 6-2 player with the same last name. When she plays, the Sun are really small. And JJ herself, while tall, is something of a stringbean compared to the burly centers that she usually faces (though not against the Mystics), not unlike ONO. But she certainly gets her share of rebounds at both ends of the court.

Both the Mystics and the Sun have been able to win a ton of games this season, including against big teams like Las Vegas, the LA Sparks, and the Chicago Sky.

What's the point for UConn? Assuming (just hypothetically) that Evelyn turns out to be the 5th starter, UConn's front court this year will be 6-5, 6-2 and 6-1 -- none of whom are unathletic. That is essentially comparable to the size of the front court of the two best teams in the WNBA, and they have to play against stiffer (and bigger) competition than UConn will face in the coming season. The fact that teams such as Oregon will be somewhat taller does not (by itself) mean that they should be favored in games against UConn.

Ah, you say, but what about Brown and Cox last year helping Baylor to win the NC? I honestly think that if Azura had stayed and played for UConn last season, and had remained healthy, they would have been undefeated heading into the tournament and favored to win the NC, and probably would have won. Certainly in a 5-game series against Baylor, there would have been a 60-70% chance of UConn winning such a (very hypothetical) series.

Height is relevant, but a reasonably sized team with athletes and good coaching can prevail over a team which is comparably talented and somewhat taller.
uCONN Women's most successful teams had a very good post above 6ft 3. in recent years but there was a time when Geno used 3 and 4 guards against tall players and won. With many of the current teams that have multiple athletic 6 ft 4 and above that old approach won't work with many bigs.
ONO is unique, talented and athletic- and those are not her best attributes: She enjoys learning and learns quickly. From month to month this past year she jetted past many top post in her learning curves. JoePg this was a good analysis and .ell written and fun . I don't look to the Wnba it''s a bit of apples and oranges--however I respect your views
 
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It's not how big you are, it's how big you play.
Dangerfield, when healthy, plays as big as she can be. But Against Baylors front line the NCAA would need a new ruling of allowing Dangerfields Clone to ride on her shoulders along side of ONO. We all know when that ruling will come----in 2220 along with Westbrooks waiver.
 

bballnut90

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uCONN Women's most successful teams had a very good post above 6ft 3. in recent years but there was a time when Geno used 3 and 4 guards against tall players and won. With many of the current teams that have multiple athletic 6 ft 4 and above that old approach won't work with many bigs.
ONO is unique, talented and athletic- and those are not her best attributes: She enjoys learning and learns quickly. From month to month this past year she jetted past many top post in her learning curves. JoePg this was a good analysis and .ell written and fun . I don't look to the Wnba it''s a bit of apples and oranges--however I respect your views
2002 had three forwards who were 6-2, DT and Bird. A lot of UCONN fans still feel that squad is the best team Geno's ever coached.
 

bballnut90

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The Sun start 6'6 Jones, 6'2 Stricklen, and 6'2 Thomas. Compare to the Sky starting 6'5 Dolson, 6'4 Lavender, and 6'1 DeShields. My math gives me 226 total inches for each of those frontcourts. I'm not sure how the Sky are a "big team" but the Sun aren't. I would say both are around normal by WNBA standards

The Mystics are not especially big as configured in the starting lineup but 6'4 Meesseman usually plays as much or more than the starter, 6'2 Sanders. Washington often plays Meesseman and 6'5 EDD together. They're not huge like Las Vegas but they're not small either.

Jones is 6'6 and led the league in rebounds and blocks this year. She may not be built like a truck but she's the height of a center and she dominates in the areas elite centers dominate.

Meanwhile, EDD is not only the best power forward in the league but the best player in the league this year overall. And while her offensive prowess gets the attention she was also an elite defensive rebounder, finishing 4th in defensive rebound percentage.

I'm just not sure I see the team with the best PF in the league going against the team with the best Center in the league as any triumph of small ball.

However, I do take the point that you don't necessarily need to be a huge team like Baylor to win. However, this ought to be obvious from 2018 Notre Dame winning with 6'3 Shepard and 6'1 Westbeld in the frontcourt (I believe they listed Shepard at 6'4 and Westbeld at 6'2, but those were inflated, imo).

You do typically need one exceptional frontcourt player to win a championship but that player doesn't necessarily have to be giant like Griner or Kalani Brown.

In fact, I think 2019 Baylor are actually something of an anomaly. A "twin towers" approach has the drawback of creating poor offensive spacing. I think it worked for Baylor because Cox and Brown could hit the midrange shot regularly and because Cox is an exceptional passer. But it didn't work for Vegas. Cambage and Wilson were typically most effective when the other was not on the floor.

Bingo. I'm not sure why some UCONN fans are so concerned about height this year. ONO is 6-4 and Walker is 6-1 and a good rebounder. For the last three years, the tallest post UCONN has started was 6-1 Collier, and two of those years UCONN nearly went undefeated.

UCONN has the size to compete with pretty much anyone, as long as ONO doesn't get into foul trouble. Even then they should be able to compete against top teams. There isn't a player like EDD/Meesseeman in college basketball who is 6-4/6-5 and and score at will against a smaller defender on an isolation play.

Looking at other top teams and you have:
Oregon-they have 6-4/6-4
Baylor-6-4/6-3
Stanford-6-3/6-3
Mississippi State-likely 6-5/6-1
South Carolina-6-3/6-2
Maryland-6-5/6-2
Oregon State-they're tall, but not a good rebounding team. Best rebounder will likely be their 5-10 guard.

In regards to needing height to win a title? Sure, it helps, but look at some of the champions from the past 20ish years who lacked prominent size upfront:

2002 UCONN-started three 6-2 forwards
2003 UCONN-started 6-3 Moore and 6-0 Turner
2004 UCONN-started 6-3 Moore and 6-0 Turner
2005 Baylor-started 6-1 Young and 6-2 Blackmon
2009 UCONN-started 6-3 Charles and 6-0 Moore
2010 UCONN-started 6-3 Charles and 6-0 Moore
2011 Texas A&M-started 6-1 Danielle Adams
2018 Notre Dame-started 6-3/6-1

In that same time frame, the only teams who've won titles with a double big lineup are:
2006 Maryland-Harper/Langhorne were both in the 6-3/6-4 range
2007 Tennessee-Parker and Anosike were both 6-4
2008 Tennessee-Parker and Anosike were both 6-4
2013 UCONN-Dolson/Stewart
2014 UCONN-Dolson/Stewart
2019 Baylor-Cox/Brown
 

nwhoopfan

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Oregon State-they're tall, but not a good rebounding team. Best rebounder will likely be their 5-10 guard.
Really? Outrebounded their opponents 42 to 32.8 per game last year (O boards about even, grabbed approx. 300 more D boards than their opponents). That's almost exactly the same stats as the previous year when they had Gulich patrolling the paint. As long as Rueck has been there, their defense is predicated on getting their opponent to take shots they don't want to take, and securing the defensive rebound. It's been working well for quite a while now. Not sure what you're referring to.

Pivec did lead them in rebounding and may do so again, but Corosdale also averaged almost 8/game. You gotta figure the rotation of Jones/Brown/Morris (and Mitrovic if healthy) is going to be a lot more mobile and better at rebounding than Grymek. And Washington will probably play less minutes, rebounding is not her strong suit. I would guess that Pivec won't need to grab as many boards this year as she did last season.
 

nwhoopfan

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2009 UCONN-started 6-3 Charles and 6-0 Moore
2010 UCONN-started 6-3 Charles and 6-0 Moore
Well that's 2 perennial WNBA all stars there. Not all 6' players (most don't in fact) have the impact Moore does.

In that same time frame, the only teams who've won titles with a double big lineup are:
"Only?" That's 6 out of 14 for the years you've highlighted, nearly 50%.
 
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It boils down to match-ups and depth. If ONO can stay out of foul trouble, that will be a big factor and if Irwin has to play 15+ minutes rebounding/post defense could be a major liability.
I think EA could be a big help, however, at center????
 

bballnut90

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Really? Outrebounded their opponents 42 to 32.8 per game last year (O boards about even, grabbed approx. 300 more D boards than their opponents). That's almost exactly the same stats as the previous year when they had Gulich patrolling the paint. As long as Rueck has been there, their defense is predicated on getting their opponent to take shots they don't want to take, and securing the defensive rebound. It's been working well for quite a while now. Not sure what you're referring to.

Pivec did lead them in rebounding and may do so again, but Corosdale also averaged almost 8/game. You gotta figure the rotation of Jones/Brown/Morris (and Mitrovic if healthy) is going to be a lot more mobile and better at rebounding than Grymek. And Washington will probably play less minutes, rebounding is not her strong suit. I would guess that Pivec won't need to grab as many boards this year as she did last season.
Sorry I worded that wrong--meant to say their bigs arent particularly strong rebounders. OSU was a good rebounding team.

OSU has height but isnt a dominant low post team like Baylor is. If I'm playing a team like Baylor I'm more nervous about their size and ability inside than I am Oregon State.
 

bballnut90

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Well that's 2 perennial WNBA all stars there. Not all 6' players (most don't in fact) have the impact Moore does.



"Only?" That's 6 out of 14 for the years you've highlighted, nearly 50%.
The first part highlights my point though....height is overrated. It comes down to what a player can do on the court and how big she plays. UCONN had just one big post for the two undefeated titles with Moore/Charles. UCONN has just one quality post on their roster this year. As long as she can stay out of foul trouble and play good post defense, I wouldnt consider UCONN weak there.

And 'only' refers to the past 18 years, starting in 2002. The years that didnt apply to either (no double big but have size) are:
2012-Baylor..should be included with double big actually. Didnt realize how tall Destiny Williams was.
2015/16-Tuck/Stewart

2017-SC with Wilson and Gray


So in summary, only in 7 of the past 18 years did the title start a double big offense. UCONN starting 6-4 and 6-1 is right in line with your average title team from the past 18 years.
 

UConnCat

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The past two WNBA champions played very similar styles. Neither the Storm nor the Mystics played with a traditional center in terms of size or style of play. Sanders and Howard are both 6-2 and both are able to pull defenders away from the basket with their perimeter shooting (Howard's range is to the 3-point line). DelleDonne and Stewart played the 4, both are 6-4 and both can make 3s. Both teams won semifinals against teams with bigger, more traditional centers.

Meeseman might have been the X-factor had she played for the Mystics last year. The Storm didn't have a player like that coming off the bench.
 
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You can be big and lose. It’s all about the heart, hustle, boxing out, making shots, and getting the opposing team’s big in foul trouble.

Also, if the big isn’t like Tina Charles, you can keep her. She was probably was one of the toughest 5’s ever in her junior and senior years in college. She’s more of a four now.
 

nwhoopfan

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The first part highlights my point though....height is overrated. It comes down to what a player can do on the court and how big she plays.
Agreed. Quality of the player is more important than height.
 

nwhoopfan

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OSU has height but isnt a dominant low post team like Baylor is. If I'm playing a team like Baylor I'm more nervous about their size and ability inside than I am Oregon State.
Agreed, but this year's post rotation should look fairly different than last season for OSU. There will be a lot of youth, so some growing pains. But last year's group there were limited options and none of them were close to ideal, had to play somebody. They even tried 4 guards and Corosdale a little bit but that wasn't really a good look either.
 
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