I know this is going to be hard to believe, but last night Connecticut won the national championship by 31 points. I realize we were all expecting a tight game, perhaps one even won on a thrilling buzzer-beater. Alas, it simply wasn't meant to be. Maybe someone gave Syracuse food poisoning or something.
Obviously, we kid. Last night's result wasn't even remotely surprising, and marks the culmination of the career of perhaps the greatest player the women's game has ever seen. Or perhaps it's merely an accident of competition which allowed Breanna Stewart to be so dominant that she walks off with four NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player awards. Who knows?
What we do know: Stewart, and her compatriots Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, walk away with an eye-popping career record of 151-5 and four national championships. There is, quite literally, only one other college team which can hold up a record that compares to this. The Mount Union Purple Raiders football program lost the 1995 Division III championship game. Their fifth loss after that game was the 2007 Division III championship game 12 years later; during that span, the Mount won 178 games and eight national titles.
I don't bring this up to try and degrade Connecticut's accomplishment -- not at all. If anything, it's a comparison which complements and compliments. After all, comparing football to basketball in this context for any reason other than to illustrate a point is an inherently flawed process. But Mount Union's domination of Division III football over that dozen-year span was, and possibly remains, the gold standard for piledriving one's competition; the primary difference compared to Connecticut is that it involved three entire recruiting cycles to amass those gaudy numbers, whereas Connecticut's run is largely the result of one recruiting class combining with their predecessors and successors.
At the same time, however, playing 40 games in a season is a lot different than playing 14. It's much, much harder to get through that slog without dropping a few games here and there. Football is physically more punishing, but it's not like basketball is sedentary. The sheer number of games in a season simply makes it much more improbable, mathematically, to get through the basketball season without a loss.
And that's why football teams go unbeaten all the time, while in basketball it's a relative rarity, as long as you're not the Connecticut women's basketball program. They've done it six times. That's the same number as every other Division I women's basketball program combined, and even saying that requires including Immaculata in 1973 and Delta State in 1975, back before the NCAA even sponsored women's basketball. (As soon as they did, Immaculata dropped to D-III, and Delta State to D-II.) Only twelve Division I men's programs have done it, ever, and only six of those did so while playing at least 30 games.
That, more than anything, is really the point: the UConn program is a diamond. A big, gaudy diamond. In Mount Union's case, a challenger finally arose, one that could meet them as an equal. Will someone step up to become Connecticut's Wisconsin-Whitewater? We can only hope, because the game could really use it -- and for those who don't pay attention, Geno Auriemma agrees.
|NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|CHAMPIONSHIP||(1) Connecticut 82, (4) Syracuse 51||Breanna Stewart (CONN), 24|
There ain't one, kids. That's it. It's over and done. College basketball goes into hibernation for another summer, and all we have are memories. But they're some fantastic ones. The Monmouth bench (and all the Monmouth wins over P5 teams). Bo Ryan's sudden retirement. Arkansas-Little Rock inexplicably being one of the last remaining unbeatens. The triple-overtime classic at Allen Field House. Yale. Middle Tennessee State. Cincinnati's overturned buzzer-beater. Stephen F. Austin and Northern Iowa both coming an eyelash from the Sweet Sixteen. Buddy Freakin' Hield.
And a buzzer-beater to win the national championship.
That's just the men, and just Division I. The season is long, with two teams at over 1400 four-year schools playing 30 or more games each. That's over 40,000 college basketball games every single season to try and process. It's amazing we survive the season.
We hope you've enjoyed following us over the last five-plus weeks as we tried to shine a light on the darker corners. This isn't said with any moral judgement, because SportsCenter only has an hour to inform everyone of the things most people are directly interested in. Our sports diet is, for better or worse, an inverted pyramid; a hundred different people will be happy to feed you a thousand words on Duke-North Carolina. Sometimes, I get accused of trying to force people to pay attention to stuff that "doesn't matter", but that's really not my goal.
I just want cool stuff to not get lost in the shuffle. And that's what the purpose of this exercise is every year: pointing out neat stuff you probably missed. Swing by next spring, and we'll do it all over again.
But now? Now it's time to shake off the football cobwebs. It's spring, after all.