SFA lost two games in a row last week, something that doesn't happen much. In fact, the last time the Ladyjacks dropped consecutive games was in November 2019, when the team lost to UCF and Oklahoma.
But after losing road games to Gonzaga and Portland, the Ladyjacks were 8-3. The offense had scored at least 70 points in every game this season, but failed to even hit 60 in either of the losses.
So, what's it all mean? Is it panic time for the Ladyjacks? Was it just a bad stretch? What's changed for this team from where it was last year?
Gonzaga and Portland Are Good
Let's get this out of the way first. These weren't losses to bad teams. If you look at this week's College Insider Mid Major Top 25, Gonzaga is fourth, and while Portland isn't ranked, it did receive votes in the poll and is 9-2, losing only to a pair of Pac-12 teams.
I had a chance to watch the Pilots loss against Oregon, when the team came within three points of an upset win, and I came away really impressed by this Portland team. The offense gets some great production from Alex Fowler and Haylee Andrews, while defensively the team ranks in the 97th percentile in steal percentage and 83rd in block rate per CBB Analytics.
Looking at Her Hoop Stats, you can really get a sense of how good those two teams are. The site's Her Hoop Stats Rating, a metric that weighs the strength of each team, has Gonzaga at No. 11, while Portland is at No. 95. (And Portland feels underrated to me, based on my two times watching them play basketball this season.)
Should SFA be worried about those losses?
We can acknowledge that SFA's three losses are all to some really good teams and still also have to reckon with what these losses mean to the Ladyjacks.
It's clear after these last two games that SFA's having some struggles against strong teams. But, maybe that shouldn't be a surprise.
Last year, SFA only played two teams all season with an HHS rating in the top 100, beating No. 98 Jackson State in the regular season and losing to No. 43 Georgia Tech in the NCAA Tournament.
This season, the Ladyjacks have already faced five teams with a top 100 HHS rating, going 2-3 in those games. Playing more good teams is definitely a recipe for losing to more good teams, but the team's also already won twice as many games against top 100 teams by HHS rating, which is something as well. (Of course, there's no guarantee that any of these teams finish the year with a top 100 rating, but whatever — live in the moment and all that.)
Now, this isn't to excuse those losses and say "everything's fine for the Ladyjacks!" Everything definitely isn't fine if you're someone like me who thought SFA could be the best mid-major team in the country. The offense just struggled in back-to-back games, which isn't great. The team played at its slowest pace of the season in these last two games, and had its worst single-game offensive ratings of the year.
Also worth noting is that the team's three worst defensive games have been the three losses. Defense sets up offense and all that, right? It's easier to score when you're able to get out and run in transition than it is when you have to play against a set defense each play.
The Ladyjacks' shooting numbers
Beyond those two losses, let's look at a potentially more-concerning issue for SFA, which is the team's shooting at the rim.
The team is shooting 57.1 percent at the rim this year, with is 2.8 percent below Division I average. Last year, the team shot 63.5 percent at the rim, which was 4.1 percent above average.
Stephanie Visscher shot 72.6 percent at the rim last season, 13.1 percent above average. She's down to 50 percent this year, but it's just on 38 shot attempts, so there's still time for things to be corrected. But there just seems to be a lot more pressure on Visscher now, who is taking a couple more shots per game and has seen her usage rate go from 18.9 percent to 20.6 percent.
Which is where some depth concerns come into play for me. Marissa Benfield and Alyssa Mayfield were really important pieces of last year's team and while players like Avery Brittingham are stepping up it feels like this team just isn't quite as deep as last year. And that shouldn't matter much in WAC play, as a team with a Stephanie Visscher, Aiyana Johnson and Zya Nugent trio can beat any WAC team, even Cal Baptist.
But when you combine the fact that teams have a better blueprint for stopping this team with the fact that the team has played a tougher schedule, you can see why things aren't going quite as smoothly as they were.
But look, I said after the Gonzaga loss that I still thought this team was the best in the WAC, and I believe that after the Portland loss too. Someone — maybe Angel Scott, maybe Aaliyah Johnson — is going to get on track in terms of shooting, and that's going to open things back up for this Ladyjacks offense. Visscher and Aiyana Johnson will feel less pressure. The shots will go in.
Maybe this team isn't the best mid-major team in the country, but it's still a really talented team. And if things break right, SFA is still a threat to win a couple of postseason games. The path there just hasn't been super smooth so far.