What Makes Caitlin Clark So Electric?
CASCILLA, Mississippi – A month ago, I sat on my couch idly watching coverage of a seemingly random NCAA Women’s basketball game between the Iowa Hawkeyes (30-6) and the Indiana Hoosiers (28-4). I leafed through a magazine, glanced at the television. Opened another beer. Drank it.
Fifteen minutes later, the two teams found themselves locked in an incredible trade off of high leverage moments. I placed the tired magazine on the coffee table and moved to the edge of the couch.
Every moment of the game seemed to revolve around the Hawkeyes’ magnanimous point guard, Caitlin Clark. She looked quicker than everyone, more confident. She always had the ball in her hand. Her languid movements made the game of basketball look smooth, easy. I couldn’t stop watching.
Then it happened. With the Hawkeyes down by two and 1.5 seconds on the clock, Clark came off a double screen on the inbounds play. Her defender fell down on the second screen. She caught the pass and shot an off-balance three as the buzzer sounded in the arena. The shot went in. Clark charged to the baseline, where Hawkeyes fans waited to greet her. The place erupted. It was one of the coldest moments I’d ever witnessed in a basketball game.
I spilled my beer. High-fived my dog. It was the greatest moment of my life.
The Clark Effect
The buzzer-beater made the rounds on social media and eventually fizzled out. I didn’t watch another Iowa women’s basketball game until the NCAAW tournament.
But I thought about that buzzer-beater. The shot. I figured we’d see Clark and the Hawkeyes again. I was right.
Women’s college hoops has never been in a better place and one of the reasons is because of Clark’s magnetism on the court. Every sport needs a star. Clark is the face of NCAAW right now. And she should be.
Clark is the definitive high risk, high reward type of guard. Her ability to make a shot from anywhere combined with her quickness and court vision gives these power five women’s coaches night terrors.
Iowa’s offense depends on Clark’s shot-creating ability. When she’s hot, the entire defense has to adjust, which gives her the ability to spread the love and create scoring opportunities for her teammates. Her assist game is nuts and she can fill up a highlight reel with no-look passes to her wide open teammates.
But it’s a boom-or-bust model that relies heavily on Clark’s offensive prowess in order to win. Clark averages 27.3 points per game (PPG), 7.3 rebounds per game (RPG) and 8.6 assists per game (APG). She shoots only 47.4% from the field and the rest of the team (save Monika Czinano) struggles to keep up with her numbers.
Her favorite option, Czinano, averages 17.1 PPG. Czinano is 6’3” with a wide base and quick feet. Defenses don’t want to double Clark for fear of leaving Czinano on the block with a mismatch. And let’s say you double Clark and cover Czinano on the base; well, you still have to worry about McKenna Warnock, who has a nice touch from the outside and can score from anywhere on the court.
The point guard-center duo puts pressure on opposing defenses to keep up with Clark’s fast-paced style of play and Czinano’s ability to score in the post. It’s why the Hawkeyes’ rank 1st in the country in points per game at 87.6 and 11th in possession per 40 minutes (76.4).
Skip the Defense
The offensive approach means the Hawkeyes are vulnerable on defense. They allow 70.9 PPG, which is 306th in the country, and 92.2 points per 100 possessions (190th). The Hawkeyes also struggle off the glass, where they are 285th in offensive rebound rate.
When they lose, it’s because they can’t play defense and they turn the ball over a bunch. A perfect example is their loss to Maryland on February 21st, where the Hawkeyes gave up 96 points.
In that game, the Terrapins held Clark to only 18 points and Czinano to 4. The Hawkeyes scored a pitiful 68 points and lost to Maryland by 28.
Clark turned it over 6 times against Maryland and the Hawkeyes combined for a total of 24 turnovers – well above their season average of 14.5.
Still, the Golden State Warriors have proven over the years that turnovers can be neutralized with fast play and sharp shooting. 24 turnovers will put any team in their grave, but Clark and Czinano play with enough speed and deference to overcome a large turnover margin and win games.
This fast-paced style of women’s basketball has electrified the nation and led to a record-breaking ratings boon for the NCAAW tournament. At the center of all of it is Caitlin Clark and her historic triple double.
Louisville/Iowa Women's March Madness: 2.499M
XFL, Saturday 1P ABC: 1.047M
Pro Bull Riding, Sunday Noon CBS: 1.001M
NHL*, Saturday 8P ABC: 922K
XFL*, Sunday 3P ABC: 753K
*had Men's March Madness competition
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) March 28, 2023
Clark notched a historic victory in the elite eight on Sunday, March 26th, to send the No. 2 seeded Iowa Hawkeyes to their first Final Four appearance since 1993.
Clark went off for 41 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. It’s the first 40 point triple-double in March Madness history. Clark also holds the only 30 point triple-double in March Madness history. What a player.
The Hawkeyes led by 5 at the half, but Louisville cut the deficit to one before Clark led Iowa on a 17-6 run to shut the door on the Cardinals. The Hawkeyes point guard put on a 3-point shooting clinic, hitting many of her shots from close to the March Madness logo.
She did all this while recording 9 turnovers. She’s an absolute maniac out there.
The step back threes, the no look passes. It’s a terrific performance on the sport’s biggest stage.
But I want you to watch that video and fast-forward to 3:30. In this play, Clark and Gabbie Marshall trap Louisville point guard, Hailey Van Lith (who had 27 points in this game, by the way), and force a turnover. Marshall recovers the loose ball and gets it to Clark quickly who recognizes that there are two bigger defenders running full speed to contest her layup. She picks up her dribble and, right before she lays it up, she slows down just a step and waits for the defenders to blow past her. They do. Easy layup.
This is what makes Clark so good, Her ability to change speeds. Her basketball IQ. Her court awareness. That’s an incredible play among a bevy of long range three pointers and slick passes to Warnock, who went for 17.
Clark’s Hawkeyes come into Friday’s Final Four matchup as an 11.5 point underdog and for good reason. The No. 1 seeded South Carolina Gamecocks are the best team in the country. They rank in the top 10 in almost every major category except possessions per 40 minutes, where they rank 206th.
South Carolina is a much more well rounded team than Iowa. The Gamecocks have elite scorers, strong rim protectors, and terrific defenders. The game’s final result should see South Carolina in yet another NCAAW National Championship.
There’s hope for Clark.
I take solace in two numbers: possessions per 40 minutes and steals per game. The Gamecocks want to slow down the pace of the game and control the clock. Iowa thrives in the open court, where they can get the ball to Clark and force the defense to react. If Iowa can establish a fast pace and create easy buckets off turnovers, the Hawkeyes can stay in the game.
Clark’s achilles heel is the turnover. The Maryland game demonstrates how bad Iowa can play when they start to give the ball away. The good news? The Gamecocks don’t force a ton of turnovers.
Look for Iowa to play fast in this one and utilize Warnock more than Czinano. Warnock can stretch the floor and hit long range jumpers, which makes it harder for teams to shade Clark with a second defender.
From a betting perspective, Clark’s player prop numbers have inflated, but, when you’re rolling with the most exciting player in the game, you take the over on everything and pray for another historic triple-double.
Iowa +11.5 (-110)
OVER 149 Total Points (-110)
Clark OVER 26.5 Points (-130)
Czinano UNDER 14.5 Points (-110)
Clark OVER 7.5 Rebounds (+100)