Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NCAA Women's Basketball; Some Final Thoughts


The UCONN women's basketball team are 39-0 and national champions for the the six time in their history. In this remarkable run then have beaten every opponent by double digits, the smallest margin of victory was ten points (over Rutgers and Notre Dame). They trailed in a game in the second half only one time this season. Coach Geno Auriemma and his staff, and his remarkable team deserve a standing ovation for this accomplishment.

But in my eyes, what they accomplished this year signals a red flag to this sport, one which I thought was lowered several years ago when two upstart programs, Baylor (2005) and Maryland (2006), won national championships in consecutive years. After that, Tennessee won back to back titles (2007-08), and then UCONN won it this year.

Consider the following; Tennessee won its first women's basketball championship in 1987, Connecticut its first in 1995. The 23 championships won between 1987 to 2009 have been dominated by Tennessee (8) and UCONN (6). Yes, Tennessee did go through an off year (by their standards) and was beaten in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (by Ball State) for the first time in their history. But this more than likely was an aberration; Pat Summitt is a giant in the sport, and the Lady Vols will be back.

This year there was a certain degree of parity between the teams #2 through #40 in the women's game- on a given day any Top Ten team could be beaten by any unranked team. We saw it time and time again- Michigan State over Duke and Rutgers over Auburn, for example. But the problem is the top of the pyramid- UCONN is so superior to the rest of the other programs in women's basketball, the gulf is so wide, that what should have been the climax to an unpredictable women's tournament full of upsets became anti-climactic.

The Louisville-UCONN championship game wasn't so much an athletic event but an investiture of a once exiled monarch after the usurpers vacated power- the only thing missing were crowns, bishops, and choirs singing of their divine right to rule.

The problem of women's college basketball is the polar opposite of the men's game. Men's basketball can't retain many of its top performers, who leave early for the riches of the NBA- some after only one year- and the ability of college coaches to stockpile and develop talent is greatly diminished.

Women's college basketball also suffers from a "numbers" situation. There are far fewer top level women players compared to men. They aren't going to get rich by jumping to the WNBA, so they stay for four years. And the majority of this talent goes to several select programs. What we saw UCONN do this year is exhibit A. Where most programs, like Louisville, Rutgers, Pitt, or Maryland, have one or two bonafide superstars UCONN has three, the trinity of Renee Montgomery, Tina Charles, and Maya Moore. And no matter how you split the numbers, three will always beat one or two.

It was a very good year for UCONN, and its fans. But was this really a good year for the long term development of women's basketball?

In crowning the present and future rulers of the game, has the game taken a step backwards after taking several forward?

The jury's out.


Tessa said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Tessa- Thank you very much- we try, and some people think we are very trying.

Tell your neighbors, bring the kids, and come back often!

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