The next few weeks of the calendar year are huge for University of Connecticut fans everywhere as a number of fall teams have made runs into the postseason while many winter teams are about to begin their regular seasons. Two perennial championship contenders coming from Storrs are the field hockey team and women’s basketball team, respectively. Connor Donahue and Chris Hanna make a case for which team has the better championship odds this year.
Connor Donahue: The UConn field hockey team opens up their tournament run with a matchup against Boston College in Syracuse, New York. When the NCAA released the bracket Sunday night, the Huskies surprisingly found out they would not be hosting a region despite their impressive resume this season. UConn is 20-1 overall, with an undefeated record in the Big East winning both the regular season and postseason conference titles. Their sole loss of the season came on a road game at No. 2 Maryland, where they lost by one goal.
This team is very, very good. They’ve outscored opponents 107-26 this season. To put that in perspective, field hockey games usually end with a score similar to what you would see in hockey, low scoring with heavy defense from both sides. To outscore opponents by the amount the Huskies have done is unheard of. UConn leads the country in both goals per game and scoring margin. They have two Huskies in the top ten in the country in goals per game, junior Charlotte Veitner ranks second, while sophomore Amanda Collins comes in at eighth.
Chris Hanna: Yes, the field hockey team is definitely very good. They have a great record and are led by some great scorers in Veitner and Collins. However, there is almost no question that the women’s basketball team has the better championship odds. Despite the loss of three fantastic players in Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, the basketball team still has loads of talent from top to bottom, with Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams leading the charge. And let's not forget about Napheesa Collier and highly touted freshmen Crystal Dangerfield and Molly Bent, who will each do great things off the bench for the Huskies as they develop throughout the season.
On the other hand, despite all the talent the field hockey team has, there's quite a bit of competition for them in the NCAA tournament. Teams like Duke, North Carolina, Penn State and defending champions Syracuse all have a legitimate shot at the title, and pose a serious threat to UConn field hockey. Even with the loss of the Huskies’ big three in women’s basketball, there are few teams that can really challenge UConn come March. Plus, no coach can compare to the legendary Geno Auriemma. Auriemma’s combination of motivational ability, matchup planning and pure X’s and O’s make him arguably the all-time best coach in any sport. That alone should be enough to give women’s basketball the better championship odds.
Donahue: One thing I’m worried about with the basketball team is the lack of reliability on offense. The loss of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson is a huge blow. There’s a void in leadership that’ll need to be filled, and some of the younger players need to make a huge leap this year if the Huskies want this dynasty to keep rolling. Geno is an amazing coach, and yes, he’ll probably have this team ready, but there’s always a chance they are not. The basketball team will not have a returning All-American for just the second time in the last ten seasons. Combine this with the Huskies having one of their most difficult non-conference schedules in recent history, and this national championship streak might just be over.
Hanna: We won’t really know how good this basketball team is for a few more weeks when the most difficult part of their schedule hits. However, anytime the basketball team’s dynasty has been in question, the girls responded ten-fold. See: the South Carolina game two years ago. The Gamecocks supplanted the Huskies as No. 1 in the nation and people thought the UConn dynasty was on its way down. Of course, the Huskies came out with a dominating 25 point win at Gampel on their way to their third straight title. The names on the back of the jerseys might be different, but the Huskies have never failed to defend the name on the front and there will surely be a few statement games like that for the women’s basketball team.
Regardless of who has the better odds to win a championship for UConn this year, given the two teams’ great reputations in the postseason realistically both could bring home some hardware to Storrs at the end of the fall and winter seasons.