December 17, 2023 

Introducing to women’s college basketball: The Knife Kid

Bringing the concept of a Knife Kid, the dangerous and mercurial teams that are never lacking in chaos, to the world of women's basketball

Last month we adopted the college football concept of “blood week” for women’s college basketball. Now we continue, by exploring the “Knife Kid.”

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The idea of a Knife Kid is simple: it’s a kid running around with a knife, dangerous and unpredictable. Entertaining at first glance, until you fully register that it’s a kid with a knife, liable to hurt themselves if left unattended and likely to hurt you when you try to intervene. A version of the concept was first created by collegiate athletics anthropologists Alex Kirshner and Jason Kirk and loosely expanded upon since by former Banner Society contributors like Spencer Hall.

A Knife Kid team is just the same: entertaining, as long as you’re not the one that has to play them because that can end very badly! They’re the kind of team that runs a high NET without actually earning an at-large bid in March, as their highest highs are offset by bewildering lows. And the past couple of weeks have seen a lot of Knife Kid teams swinging wildly and hitting everything in sight. Try to make sense of them, I dare you.


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Princeton

The Tigers have played five teams in the NET top 55. Their point differential in those games is +10. The Tigers have also played five teams ranked No. 85 or worse (mostly far worse), and have a point differential of +37 against that quintet — which is better, but not by that much! Princeton’s going to play its own game, and if that means playing UCLA and Rhode Island equally well, then so be it.

Duke

The Blue Devils are almost literally kids running around with a knife: exactly two-thirds of their minutes this season have been played by underclassmen. This is frankly the only explanation for how a group goes from giving the best team in the country (South Carolina) a longer fight than anyone to date, then immediately taking an uncompetitive loss to a terrible Clemson squad. Or how they go from a home loss against Davidson to taking Stanford to overtime. Normal stuff.

Columbia

There’s no sense in a kid running around with a knife if no one’s there to see them putting everyone’s well-being in harm’s way. That’s why Columbia very quietly destroys every mid-major on their schedule, so it can save its chaos for the high-majors:

  • A two-point loss to Duke where the teams traded 7-0 and 10-0 runs in just a four-minute span in the fourth quarter
  • An inexplicable 17-point loss to Georgia in a game the Lions were favored by 4.4 points
  • A two-point loss to Florida on the wildest buzzer-beater of the entire season
  • A two-point win over Villanova despite giving the Wildcats two decent looks for game-tying or go-ahead shots and missing a free-throw with two seconds left that kept Villanova in the game

Columbia is built around the high-volume but highly streaky shooting of Abbey Hsu and ball movement from players who commit a lot of turnovers. That’s a perfect setup for very wacky results.

Arkansas

If there’s one thing Mike Neighbors’ teams are going to do, it’s baffle you, and this year is no exception. The 2023-24 Razorbacks have managed to barely avoid losses to Louisiana-Monroe, Murray State and Wisconsin, be uncompetitive against Marquette, beat Florida State in Tallahassee, not get their doors blown off by UCLA, and blow a 12-point lead to Pine Bluff.

Woo pig.

Villanova

The formula is simple: Lucy Olsen is going to drop 25-30 points, her teammates may or may not remember how to shoot and at least one mind-boggling foul will be committed with the game on the line.

The Wildcats have played 11 games, and despite being favored by Her Hoop Stats in every single one, they sit 6-5. They have dropped four of their last five, one of which they led with 13 seconds remaining in the fourth before committing a completely unnecessary foul to give up an and-1, and another saw them miss a free throw that would have tied the game with two seconds left. The sole win in that stretch was a game they came awfully close to dropping against a bad Penn team.

Are there any teams I’m missing from the list? Let us know!

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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