Season Review: The Washington Mystics’s championship season was, indeed, magical

As the post-game celebration of the Washington Mystics’s 2019 WNBA Championship wound down, I stuffed a bunch of red, white, and blue confetti into my laptop bag. The silliness of excitedly grabbing literal trash was not lost on me. But as I write this article, I’m looking at a little plastic bag full of those paper scraps and feel the rush from the final moments of the WNBA season. The Washington Mystics won the freaking WNBA title and somehow, that bag of trash brings back that feeling. Sports are weird, but also perfect sometimes.  

The Mystics’ first title was a perfect capper to this group’s rise to the top. Head Coach Mike Thibault finally got a ring after so many near-misses. WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne overcame THREE HERNIATED DISKS to solidify her case for best player on the planet. The team was determined for greatness this season and they accomplished greatness.

Beautiful Basketball

Here’s an incomplete list of offensive statistical categories which the Mystics led the league in for the regular season: *DEEEEEP BREATH* Points per game, Offensive Rating, Net Rating, Field Goal %, Free Throw %, EFG%, True Shooting %, Assists per game, Turnovers per game , Assist-to-turnover ratio, Turnover %, Three-point attempts per game, Three-point makes per game. 

Again, there are more categories in which this team dominated. But even these amazing stats cannot fully express the greatness of this offense. The Mystics played beautifully. They moved the ball unselfishly and (almost) always hit the open shot. I asked Elena Delle Donne if this was the best offense she has ever played earlier in the season

“By far, nothing even comes close,” the 2019 WNBA MVP answered without hesitation. “When you get to play beautiful, unselfish basketball where nobody cares about their statistics. Nobody cares if they’re getting the shots, or they’re getting the looks. It’s all about who is open, who is hitting, who we can flow through. It’s just fun basketball.”

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Why We Love FCS: The Miracle in Cambridge, the worst kicking performance in CFB History, and Monmouth’s dominance

Originally Published on Underdog Dynasty on November 6, 2019

Dartmouth beats Harvard with a miracle 

By now, you probably know why I’m talking about Dartmouth-Harvard. With 6 seconds left, #13 Dartmouth’s perfect season seemed to be coming to an end. Harvard led 6-3 with the Big Green on the Crimson’s 43-yard line. Then, this happened.

Derek Kyler, the second-string junior quarterback who was thrust into action after a first-half injury to Jared Garbino, will live on forever in Dartmouth lore for this pass. Junior wideout Masaki Aerts (pronounced “Arts”) will also go down as a Big Green legend for catching his first-career touchdown on this play. On the flip side, the headline of the article on this game from the official Dartmouth Athletics websiteThe Aerts-ful Dodger: No. 14/15 Dartmouth Wins on Hail Mary—will live on the internet forever. Just be cool for once, Dartmouth. 

Harvard head coach Tim Murphy told The Harvard Crimson that the team got their “guts ripped out.” Which is fair because Harvard really should not have lost this game. The Crimson defense played damn-near perfect as they held the highest scoring team in FCS to just three points, forced six punts, and snagged two interceptions. With 1:31 left in the game and Dartmouth on their own 12-yard line, the defensive line collapsed on Kyler and picked up what should have been the game-sealing fumble. 

At this point, Harvard had a 99.9% chance of winning according to ESPN’s win probability tracker. Yet, the Crimson still managed to lose because of a few miscues. Two missed field goals by Jake McIntyre, RB Devin Darrington going out of bounds with 1:17 left to give Dartmouth enough time for the miracle, and DB Isaiah Wingfield tipping a hail mary pass straight up in the air will keep the team up at night for a while. 

The Miracle at Cambridge (we need a better name) instantly becomes the defining image of this rivalry’s history after 123 meetings between the teams. Harvard crushed the Big Green for two solid decades, going 20-1 from 1997-2017 with 14 straight victories until Dartmouth finally won last year. Dartmouth had not won in Cambridge since 2003 before Saturday. 

The recently ended dominance is reminiscent of how the Harvard-Dartmouth rivalry started. The Crimson won the first 18 games the two teams played from 1882-1903. Dartmouth didn’t score until the second century of this rivalry in 1901. 

The Big Green (known as the Indians then) ended that streak by beating Harvard in the first-ever game played at Harvard Stadium in 1903. It is an embarrassing fact of the rivalry for Harvard that comes up every time the teams play in Cambridge. Now the highlight of the Miracle will also come up every time the teams play there.

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Why We Love FCS: CFB’s Most Dominant Dynasty, Striped Turf, and a wild Big South finish

Published on Underdog Dynasty on October 31, 2019

With 6 minutes left in the biggest game of the FCS’ regular season, North Dakota State seemingly forgot about the last decade of Bison football. Much like its namesake, NDSU has stampeded over the Football Championship Subdivision for eight years largely by running the dang ball. So it was a bit shocking to see Dimitri Williams, a redshirt senior running back with experience at every position but quarterback, receive a handoff and pull up to throw with the game tied late. Williams heaved the ball up as he got hit. It died about five yards downfield and landed in the arms of a waiting South Dakota State defensive lineman. 

The Jackrabbits had their chance to get a program-defining win in front of a record crowd of SDSU fans. But NDSU is selfish when it comes to glory and wins. Two plays later, the Bison defensive line caused pressure, which caused an errant throw, which landed in the hands of cornerback Josh Hayes

NDSU then ran for nine yards on three plays to set up a fourth-and-one from their own 29-yard line with 2 minutes left. Most teams punt in this situation as a turnover-on-downs basically gives the opponent a free field goal opportunity. Of course, North Dakota State is not “most teams.” 

Their offensive line, the lifeblood of this dynasty, insisted that the offense line up for fourth-and-one. Running back Adam Cofield set up as the dot in the I-formation and watched the sea of defenders part in front of him. He broke an arm tackle and was off to the races. 71 yards later, Cofield stopped running in the endzone, NDSU had a 23-16 lead and the Bison could finish out their 29th consecutive victory. 

At this point, the North Dakota State program is untouchable. They have the most championships in FCS history, winning seven of the last eight. No team in Division 1 has come close to that run of titles since the Ivy League reigned supreme at the turn of the century. NDSU is 31-2 in the FCS playoffs since 2010. The only champions in this decade have been the Bison or a team that beats them in the playoffs (Eastern Washington in 2010, JMU in 2016). 

This 29-game win streak is the second-longest in FCS history, right behind the Bisons’ record 33-game streak from 2012-14. They have beaten 17 (!) ranked teams during this current streak. Frankly, the only thing left for NDSU to accomplish is getting to 47 straight wins, a record set by Oklahoma in 50s. If there is a team who can beat the Sooners’ record, it’s North Dakota State. 

There is more evidence but the conclusion is inescapable: the Bison have become College Football’s most-dominant dynasty ever. They’re also showing no signs of stopping. They should get the top-seed in the Playoffs again and eclipse their own 33-game streak in the first round. 

We could point to so many things to explain the NDSU’s success, but I think this clip of them taking the Dakota Marker after the win is a big part of it.

Many of the guys going crazy over the trophy have never lost a game at NDSU. Most have won a championship, while the redshirt seniors have won three titles. Yet, this win over a rival in the middle of the season elicits a huge celebration from the Bison. They don’t take their success for granted, they don’t skip steps, they don’t forget to celebrate. They just run you down and win games. And NDSU will continue to do so until further notice.

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“Determined for greatness”: The Washington Mystics will their way to the WNBA Championship

With 6 minutes and 28 seconds left in the 3rd quarter of Game 5 of the WNBA Finals, Elena Delle Donne needed to make a big play. She just received the ball from Natasha Cloud and stood on the three-point line. The Mystics desperately needed a basket as the Sun had just opened up a nine-point lead off a 10 to two run. After watching her teammates run an action, the MVP decided to force the issue herself. Delle Donne went right at Alyssa Thomas, spun into the paint, hit the bank shot, and drew the 4th foul on Jonquel Jones. Afterwards, she let out a roar as if to say “I’m not losing tonight.”

The play marked the game’s turning point. Jonquel Jones sat for the rest of the quarter and DC finished the game by outscoring Connecticut 43-25. However, the play was not emblematic of the Mystics’ beautiful and flowing offense that captivated the league. EDD shrugged off the team’s off-ball action to go right at one of the league’s best defenders in isolation. It was a moment of sheer determination. While it may seem out of step with the team’s offensive plan, Delle Donne’s bucket exemplified the will of this team to win a championship this season.

“This team was determined for greatness. It took five games, took four in the semis, it took battling injuries, it took a lot of resilience, fight, heart,” said Kristi Toliver wearing skiing googles with the champagne-drenched trophy next to her. “We had the biggest heart all year, and we were the most focused and determined team all year, and we’re just really proud of what we’ve done.”

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WNBA Semifinals Game 3 Reaction: The Sun will be shining in the Finals

Games 1 and 2 of the WNBA semifinals went largely according to plan. Washington and Connecticut won their home games against the lower-seeded teams. Washington dazzled with its offense while Connecticut’s toughness was on full display. Game 3 did not according to any plan known to the WNBA community. The Aces trounced the Mystics, who shockingly looked completely inept on offense in Las Vegas. The Sparks, who had won 14 straight home games, got pile-driven by the Sun (while playing in Long Beach rather than LA).

When Role Players become Superstars

THE CONNECTICUT SUN WERE TIRED OF IT. They were tired of playing single-elimination games. They were tired of players wanting to leave Connecticut. Most importantly, they were tired of the disrespect (or disrespeCT, as the Sun say) tossed at their roster. The Sun came into the playoffs with a freaking boulder on their shoulder and ripped through the LA Sparks in 3 games to make it to the WNBA Finals. Jasmine Thomas led the team offensively with 29 (!!!) points and defensively by locking down Chelsea Gray in all three games.

We’ll focus on their finals match-up once it’s set. But let’s take a minute to appreciate what this group just did. The LA Sparks came into this series with two MVPs, a former DPOY, a bunch of all-stars, a head coach with NBA championships, a legendary GM, and two recent WNBA titles. The Sun came in with a bunch of role players, if you believe ESPN. But they played tough, gritty basketball and they did it together.

“They have that chip on their shoulder. This group has really taken that chip of being called a team without superstars,” said Sun Head Coach Curt Miller. “We are team that fits together. We can win in different ways.”

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Can the Mystics still win with Elena Delle Donne hurt? Yes, here’s how.

The Washington Mystics announced on Wednesday that Elena Delle Donne has a small disc herniation in her back. She will go through physical therapy and get reevaluated on Saturday. This is brutal for Delle Donne, who played through a bruised knee in last year’s Finals sweep. But at least, she still has a chance to play. More importantly, the Mystics still have a chance to win Game 3 and possibly the series with a hobbled EDD or without her entirely. It would take a herculean effort from the entire Washington organization, but they can do it and here’s how.

Emma Meesseman continues her play

Losing a 6’5 insanely talented big who can shoot, rebound, pass, and hold up defensively is obviously devastating. However, the Mystics can attempt to replace that player with a 6’4″ insanely talented big who can shoot, rebound, pass, and hold up defensively.

Emma Meesseman’s marvelous play continued in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. She put up 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting and did everything she could to fill in for EDD. As I wrote yesterday, Meesseman’s screening ability, offensive shot creation, and spot up shooting make her a great fit into the MVP’s role.

Luckily for Washington, Meeseman is playing the best basketball of her career right now. Playoff Emma is averaging 19.8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. Her shooting percentage slash line looks fake: 58.8%/54.5%/87.5%.

Meesseman is now willing to be the focal point of the offense after her teammates encouraged her to take more shots all year. The team has called her the missing piece throughout the postseason. If she can keep up her pace, she will prove them right by making up for some of EDD’s lost production.

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Emma Meesseman is proving to be the missing piece for the Washington Mystics

Published on Winsidr on September 20, 2019

No one would have thought that the Washington Mystics were missing anything heading into the playoffs. The team had reeled off 12 wins in the last 14 games of the regular season. They dominated over that stretch as DC won by a margin of 17 points on average. But after the Mystics took a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Las Vegas Aces, a lot of the team’s statements focused on what was missing: Kristi Toliver and Emma Meesseman. Toliver missed the last 13 games of the regular season with a bone bruise in her right knee while Emma Meesseman missed all of last season to rest and regroup mentally. With both these missing pieces back, the Mystics might actually be unstoppable.

Meesseman going off

Winning in the WNBA playoffs obviously takes a team effort. But Emma Meesseman really pushed the Mystics to wins in the first two games in this Semifinals series. Over the last two games, the Belgian big scored 57 points (!!!) while shooting 62.2% from the field and 63.6% from deep. She is also averaging eight rebounds per game and almost four assists per game. Those are numbers that even newly-minted MVP Elena Delle Donne would be proud of.

Meesseman did a lot of her damage by just drilling open shots. The Aces have to pay so much attention to EDD that it gives Emma open looks. And you should not give Emma any open looks because she will make you pay. Liz Cambage summed it up in her curt post-game interview when asked what Meesseman did well: “She ain’t missing shots.” For her part, Meeseman also boiled down her performance to just making buckets.

“It’s easier to take my shot when it goes in,” joked the 26-year old. “When you have the hot hand, just keep shooting. That’s what I did. The eleven assists [for Natasha Cloud] were probably all to me. So, they left me open and I’ll take [the open shots] now.”

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WNBA Playoffs Second Round Reaction: Dissecting what led to Dearica Hamby’s Miracle Shot

We have just regained the ability to speak after Dearica Hamby’s stunning early buzzer-beater to send the Aces to the Semifinals. I mean check out this amazing view of Hamby’s Heave.

The Aces will take on the Mystics in the Semifinals and if they win that series, expect this shot to become even more legendary. A lot of other things happened in the second round, such as, the Sparks also moving on to the next round. We need to take a second to react to all of it (mostly the shot because WHAT?!?!) before the Semifinals start on Tuesday.

When Chicago had the game in hand

In these moments, we often forget what happened before the moment. Let’s not do that this time around because the whole ending sequence of the Chicago-Las Vegas was bonkers. It deserves a deeper look. Here’s the end of the game so you can see what I’m talking about.

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As the Mystics’ offense sets records, Washington’s defense continues to improve

Last Sunday in the Nation’s Capital, Shey Peddy hit a three from the top of the key to put the Washington Mystics up 103-65 on the Indiana Fever late in the fourth quarter. Even though the game was no longer in doubt, the crowd erupted. News had apparently spread that Peddy’s triple, DC’s 18th of the game, broke the WNBA’s single-game record for three pointers made. The record-breaking three capped off an unbelievable offensive performance and an emphatic win, one that keeps Washington atop the WNBA’s standings. It was a beautiful moment and one that we will look back on if the Mystics reach their goal of winning the championship.

However, a more subtle moment from this game will stick out to me if Washington raises the trophy this year. It was Ariel Atkins making Erica McCall eat a shot in the second quarter after a frantic DC defensive possession. Every single Mystic switched assignments during the play; every single Mystic communicated and stayed active; every single Mystic anticipated the Fever’s play. Atkins came up from behind and swatted McCall’s shot at the rim. It was one of the best defensive possessions of the year for the Mystics and, more importantly, it showed that this team is capable of playing championship-level defense. That is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league.

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Let’s take a step back: Indiana’s midrange fever

“Midrange” has become a dirty word in basketball over the last few years. With the rise of extremely complicated data due to very fancy technology, the basketball community discovered that a three-point shot is worth one more point than a two-point shot. Kidding aside, the analytics movement revealed that shots from midrange yield far fewer points per possession than three-point attempts. Consequently, most teams have gone away from midranges. The 2019 Indiana Fever are not one of those teams.

Indiana takes the most midrangers in the league….by a lot.

The Fever actually have one of the most efficient offenses in the league through 20 games. Indiana ranks third in offensive rating at 98.8, according to Yet, they sit at 6-15 and four and half games back of the last playoff spot. Essentially, Indy’s solid offense has kept them in the playoff race while their defense has dragged them down.

The offense relies HEAVILY on midrange jumpers though. The Fever lead the league in percentage of points that come from midrange shots at 24.0%, which is six percent more than any other team. 285 of their possessions have ended in a shot from 17 feet out to the 3-point line (or as I like to call it, Daryl Morey’s hell). No other team has more than 230 such possessions, according to Synergy Sports. They take 36.7% of their shots from midrange, far above the league average of 25.5%.

I could go on, but you get the picture: the Fever love the midrange. At the very least, they are pretty good at shooting from there. Indy maintains the 4th most efficient midrange offense with 0.736 points per possessions. Candice Dupree and Erica Wheeler basically made the All-Star Game by taking midrange jumpers. Those two rate out as “very good” in terms of points per possession from the midrange, according to Synergy’s data.

Despite what the numbers and the basketball analytics beehive say, Indiana built a very good offense predicated on midrange jumpers in 2019……for now.

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