Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why I'm Not Impressed by the UConn Women's 'Record'

I have been avoiding ESPN at all costs, and its only partially because I can't get any NBA and college basketball highlights due to the NFL's monopoly over ESPN broadcasting during football season.  I have been avoiding ESPN because I can't stand to listen to otherwise respectable sportscasters over-hype a record that, upon closer examination, isn't all that impressive.

"Jake, you're an asshole.  You have no respect for the women's game."

I concede both points, but hear me out.  I don't care about the UConn women's 'record' for 2 reasons:

1) People keep claiming that the UConn women are breaking the UCLA men's record; they're not. 

They are establishing a women's record, not breaking a men's record. 

Sports records are measured by gender because we compete separately by gender.  We compete separately because if men's and women's teams competed against one-another, the men's teams would win - huge.  Whether you're talking about basketball, tennis, volleyball, golf, or soccer, professional men will always beat professional women - and badly.  That's why they play separately. 

I know Jemele Hill will say otherwise, but anyone who follows sports knows that if Candace Parker played 48 minutes for the Detroit Pistons, her line would appear as follows: 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 5 turnovers.  And she'd only have 5 turnovers because Rodney Stuckey and Rip Hamilton would stop giving her the ball after the fifth time one of her chest-passes got picked off by the slowest guy on the other team. 

Ya know what?  Bad comparison, those are pros.  Lets stick to the college game.  Forget about the UConn women beating a Division 1 men's basketball team.  It just would not happen.  And I'm not just talking about the Dukes and Michigan States of D-1 men's basketball.  I'm talking about the IUPUI's, the Iona's, the Morgan States, the Lehighs, and the Nichols States (Go Colonels!)  Sorry ladies.  No way.  Not happening.  Those guys are too big, too strong, and too athletic to lose even to the dominant UConn women.

I'm not saying this stuff to be mean, just to prove a point.  If men and women competed against one-another, women would have exactly zero records. Thus, women have their own records and journalists can't pick and choose which records are gender-neutral and which one's aren't.  UConn holds the women's record; UCLA holds the men's.  End of discussion.

2)  Neither record is all that impressive in the first place.

In the early 1970s, when UCLA was racking up wins and establishing its 88-game streak, UCLA was the place to play in men's college basketball (or as it was called back then: college basketball).  .  They had it all: the best coach (John Wooden), the biggest booster (Sam Gilbert), and the richest tradition.  As a result, they got all the brightest stars.  Big deal that they managed to rack up 88 wins with Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, and a cavalcade of future NBA/ABA superstars.  Yahoo! Sports' Gregg Doyle points out that behind Kareem, Walton, and the other starters during UCLA's epic run sat Swyn Nater, a guy who ended up averaging a double-double over 11 seasons in the NBA.  Nater wasn't good enough to see the court for John Wooden. 

If you have a guy who sat on your college bench for 4 years and ended up averaging a double-double in the NBA, I'm not impressed by how many wins you rack up in a row.  That's not even athletic competition - its a waste of time for the other teams.  I am much more impressed by Illinois nearly running the table back in '04-'05.  Sure they had Deron Williams, arguably the best point guard currently in the NBA, but who else?  They certainly weren't stacked like UCLA was, and with the level of competition in D-1 college basketball today, bangin' out 29 straight is a greater accomplishment than UCLA's 88 in a row.

Moving forward to the present-day, the UConn women's team is the equivalent of Wooden's UCLA teams, as shown by the following statistic:

UConn has 11 players currently on its roster.
8 of them were McDonald's high-school All Americans.

That's not a level playing field.  There is only one women's college program that can steadily compete with UConn's recruiting ability, and that's Tennessee.  Baylor, Rutgers and Duke get good players, occasionally All-Americans, but their teams are never stockpiled with the top talent that UConn and Tennessee are. Yet everyone's impressed that they've rattled off almost 90 wins.

Lets put that in perspective as far as men's talent:

If we were to take 8 of the top McDonald's All-Americans from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 drafts and put them on a college team for 4 years, would you be surprised if they won 89 straight games?  Lets see what the squad could potentially look like:

PG - Chris Paul                                                      Bench: Chris Bosh
SG - Carmelo Anthony                                                      Josh Smith
SF - Lebron James                                                            Raymond Felton
PF - Amare Stoudemire
C -  Dwight Howard

Sure, Dwyane Wade would have been at Marquette to try to stop this juggernaut.  Deron Williams and the boys would have been at Illinois, and Sean May and the boys would have been at UNC.  But would they have a chance?

Absolutely not.  In fact, we'd have been shocked if another team came within 30.

On top of that, only 1 of the 4 women's teams listed above plays in the same conference as UConn, so they have (at most) 2 challenges a year within their own conference - and those aren't even fair fights.  Lets say that they add either Tennessee, Duke, or Baylor in a given season, and we're up to 3 challenges in the first 30 games of the season.  Let's then say that they have 2 challenges in the NCAA tournament, add those to the other 3, and UConn actually only plays about 5 games a year that they could actually lose.  That's 15 games that UConn could have lost in an 88-game span.  Today's NCAA Men's teams play at least that many tough games in a season.

Think I'm over-estimating their inherent recruiting advantages?  Think it might just be good coaching and hard work?  Lets go back to Gregg Doyel from Yahoo! Sports:

     Of UConn's 88 straight wins, 86 have been by 10 points or more. Against ranked teams
     like Florida State, UConn has won by an average of 25 points per game. Against
     unranked teams? That's when you see scores like 117-37. It's not like Auriemma is
     running up the score, either. As the game gets out of hand and the other team puts in
     scrubs, Auriemma puts in McDonald's All-Americans. That's all he has.

I want to be clear about something: the argument is not that the UConn women's program doesn't try to play the best competition that it can.  Its that they are so loaded that its impossible for other teams to compete.

Still not buying in?  Last year UConn played 14 top 25 teams.  Here are the results:

#13 Texas - won by 25.
#2 Stanford - won by 12.
#11 Florida State - won by 19.

#7 North Carolina - won by 33.
#3 Notre Dame - won by 24.
#7 Duke - won by 33.
#8 West Virginia - won by 33.
#24 St. Johns - won by 14.
#12 Oklahoma - won by 16.
#11 Georgetown - won by 22.
#8 Notre Dame - won by 15.
#7 Notre Dame - won by 15.
#8 West Virginia - won by 28.
#3 Florida State - won by 40.

They won every game by 12 or more, and only 6 were by less than 20.  They're supposedly the best competition in the country, and UConn consistently ran through them.  Its impossible to work that hard.  Its impossible to be coached that well.  That is a statistical impossibility without significantly superior talent. 
So I would appreciate it if the sportswriters of America would stop going on and on about what an amazing accomplishment this 89th victory is.  I would appreciate it if I could start watching Sportscenter again tomorrow night without being bombarded with this malarky.  I'd write more, but its women's college basketball, and I don't want to be lumped in with all the sportswriters who are pretending to give a shit.