Saturday afternoon, UConn’s women’s basketball team beat Mississippi State by a score of 98-38 in the Sweet 16. Their 60-point margin of victory was the largest of any Sweet 16 game of all time, and larger than any other margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi State was not a chump. The Bulldogs went 28-8 this year and earned a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They won two games in the NCAA Tournament to make the Sweet 16. And then they got demolished. This is UConn. They’re a juggernaut so superb that they make relatively good teams look like they’re playing another sport.
We need to take a moment to discuss how preposterous UConn’s dominance is. The Huskies are 35-0 right now. Here is a breakdown of their games:
UConn was more likely to win by 50 or more points this season than they were to win by anywhere between one and 29 points. The closest thing they did to losing was winning by 10 points. This comes after going 38-1, 40-0 the year before that, and winning the national title at a measly 35-4 the year before that. They will be the first team ever to four-peat if they win their next three games.
A lot of people have said UConn’s dominance is a sign women’s college basketball is broken. But actually examining the sport reveals that’s not the case. Women’s basketball has parity — well, it has parity everywhere except Connecticut.
UConn isn’t winning because they have the only strong, fast and tall women in the world.
Watch UConn, and their dominance is as much about finesse and great basketball skill as it is physical dominance. Breanna Stewart is a physical force, but she’s also a knockdown shooter and a nimble passer. Moriah Jefferson is a speedster, but also shoots 39 percent from deep and over 90 percent from the line. They aren’t simply overpowering opponents: They’re overpowering them and outshooting them.
Look at this NCAA Tournament.
Fourth-seeded Syracuse and seventh-seeded Washington have qualified for the Final Four. This sport isn’t just a few powerhouses destroying everybody. There’s UConn, and there’s everybody else, but there’s certainly parity among everybody else.
Women’s college hoops recruiting is more competitive than men’s hoops recruiting.
Yes, UConn is the best recruiting team in women’s college basketball. Stewart and Jefferson were the top two players in the class of 2012. But they didn’t have any of the top 75 players in the class of 2013, and none of the top 10 in the class of 2014.
A FiveThirtyEight analysis of women’s college basketball recruiting revealed the powerhouses in men’s basketball — Kentucky and Duke, etc. — land a higher percentage of top recruits than women’s powerhouses. Kentucky gets the best recruits every year, and then those recruits leave for the NBA, while UConn only gets one set of top recruits per four years. The wealth is shared more equally. Other schools have had access to top players: UConn has turned into an unstoppable destructive force anyway.
UConn doesn’t just get the best talent, it develops it.
And just landing top talent doesn’t make you this dominant. Breanna Stewart’s development as a player underscores that. As a freshman, she wasn’t much of a shooter and only had one assist per game. Now she’s a legitimate threat from beyond the arc and averages over four assists per game.
This isn’t a story of UConn just getting the best 12 players in the country every year: It’s a story of Geno Auriemma’s coaching ability and the will of great players like Stewart to become greater every year.
Women’s sports are getting stronger, and yet UConn stays UConn
That FiveThirtyEight post also shows that the talent pool for women’s basketball is almost as big as the talent pool for men’s basketball. UConn isn’t alone on top of women’s basketball because girls don’t play sports. On the contrary, with each passing year we celebrate female athletes more and more, and more girls realize it’s acceptable to excel in sports. As more and more of our young women become great athletes, it should be harder for one school to be this good. And yet!
* * *
UConn’s dominance doesn’t prove women’s basketball is broken. Women basketball is thriving, and that should help us appreciate the incredible thing the Huskies are doing. There is parity, there is talent, there is depth, and still UConn is just better than everybody else in a way that should be impossible. What the Huskies are doing is absolutely unbelievable, and we should be in awe of them.
We love watching dominant sports performances.
Head coach Geno Auriemma pointed out that nobody criticized Tiger Woods for ruining golf when he dominated golf, and it was a pretty great comparison. In 1997, Woods put on perhaps the most dominant performance in golf history at the Masters, shooting a record 18-under par and winning by the largest margin of victory in any major ever. Did people turn away? No, they tuned in. It was the highest-rated Masters of all time, and still is almost 20 years later. Twenty years! Did ratings go up when Woods’ game regressed, reintroducing parity into the sport? No: Golf ratings have dropped precipitously, especially when Woods doesn’t even play.
Last year, the Kentucky men’s team was perfect in their first 38 games. Did people turn away because they were too good? No: Their Final Four matchup with Wisconsin was the most-watched Final Four game in 22 years, even though it was on cable rather than on a broadcast network for just the second time in history. In the NBA, the Warriors are blowing away their competition at a historic rate, starting the season 24-0 and currently racing towards the best record in league history. Is their dominance boring viewers? No, of course not. More people are choosing to watch them on NBA League Pass than any other team, they were in most-watched NBA TV broadcast of all time and the ratings for their nationally broadcasted games are the highest in years.
When men dominate their sports, we go out of our way to watch them. We tune in because we’re curious how something can be that great. We hear about Tiger blowing away the field or Steph Curry drilling obscene threes, and we want to watch because we want to comprehend how it’s possible.
Saying UConn’s greatness is bad for women’s hoops is just looking for an excuse to trash them.
And yet when the UConn women’s team dominates, people react with disdain right off the bat. They see these 60-point wins against elite competition, and instead of wondering how it’s possible, they jump to a conclusion. They say UConn is too good to be interesting and that the competition must be awful. They say this without watching not because they have any clue what they’re talking about, but because they’re looking for reasons not to watch women play sports.
Stop lying and pretending that greatness bores you. We know you’re captivated by greatness in men’s sports. The reason you’re uninterested in what UConn is doing is not because they’re too good, it’s because they’re women. Saying UConn is hurting their sport by being too good is misogyny passed off as a legitimate sports opinion, and it’s disappointing to see mainstream media publications accept it as a legitimate narrative.
This isn’t about what sports storylines UConn’s detractors enjoy, it’s about which gender they respect. They don’t care about these women because they don’t have balls, and, ironically, they themselves don’t have the balls to admit it publicly.
Be honest. Say the real reason you don’t care about UConn out loud, preferably in a place where your mom or wife or girlfriend or daughter can see it. Say you don’t care about UConn because they’re women, and say it out loud, so the rest of us can know to think less of you.
Monday night, the Huskies will play Texas for a spot in the Final Four. I’ll be watching because of their dominance, not in spite of it, and I recommend you do too.
* * *
March Madness: Does Syracuse really qualify as a Cinderella story?
Be sure to subscribe to SB Nation’s YouTube channel for highlight videos, features, analysis and more