One thing that has been clear all year long is that the Stanford Cardinal are probably the best unit, top to bottom, in the nation even as other teams may have drawn more attention or received more top votes in the rankings.
The Final Four stands as an opportunity for the Stanford Cardinal to prove that against the nation's best teams after a season in which they haven't lost since returning to full health and blowing out the Xavier Musketeers in December.
What bodes particularly well for them relative to the last four team's standing is their rebounding ability. And that could be enough to carry them to a national title.
Stanford Cardinal vs. Texas A&M Aggies
By this time of year, we've scrutinized and watched the last four teams standing in the NCAA Tournament enough to have favorites.
And if you think obtaining a credential means you have to remain cool, calm, and "objective"*, then let's just say that perhaps there's a team that seems to spark excitement within you in ways that the others don't.
For me, that team is unquestionably the Texas A&M Aggies.
Yes, it helps - or "hurts", if you tire of my opinion leaking into the analysis - that coach Gary Blair has the charisma to magically make an Aggies fan out of almost anyone. But it's the way this team plays that makes them so easy to root for - despite persistent (and a statistically deserved) focus on forward Danielle Adams as an individual, this is an uptempo, no-nonsense, in your face, tenacious defensive unit that has been among the nation's finest even when they didn't necessarily get the attention of some other teams.
NCAA Women's Final Four 2011: Why Stanford's Defense Is The Key To Beating Texas A&M - Swish Appeal
The most consistent statistical key to success for the Texas A&M Aggies has been their turnover differential: they force opponents into a high rate of turnovers while keeping their own below average.
And as they showed against the Baylor Lady Bears in the Elite Eight, sometimes it's not even the actual turnovers but simply the presence of their on-ball pressure and well-coordinated defensive schemes that disrupts what opponents want to do.
Nevertheless, Stanford has multiple players capable of making plays and handling pressure. So what this game might come down to is Stanford's rebounding ability that TAMU might struggle to contend with on both ends - Stanford's starting front line of sisters Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike and Kayla Pedersen has proven to be enough to eventually overwhelm even opponents who have the size to compete with them. That it's impossible to hone in on one of them without getting beat by another makes them a tough draw for TAMU.
NCAA Women's Final Four Preview: How Can Texas A&M Beat Stanford? - Swish Appeal
The key for TAMU will be to do what they did in the second half against Baylor and keep Stanford off the boards, which is no easy task with so many people able to hit the boards hard, led by freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike with an offensive rebounding percentage of 15.82%. Older sister Nneka has some of the best post footwork in the nation and Kayla Pedersen is a matchup nightmare even if she isn't putting up big numbers.
This should be a good game as TAMU's aggressive defense should be able to pressure Stanford's ball handlers and make life difficult for them to establish Nneka Ogwumike inside. However, once Stanford gets into their sets, they're difficult to defend: between Nneka Ogwumike on the block, Jeanette Pohlen on the perimeter, Chiney Ogwumike hitting the offensive boards hard, and Kayla Pedersen, well, doing a little bit of everything, they become a nightmare to stop.