The best women’s basketball program is: _____________.
Most people would likely fill in the blank with “UConn,” a program that spent the greater part of 1995-2016 completely dominating every other schools’ program. Now, after they’ve failed to win a championship in its past five tries, some people are starting to question whether the program is still the standard to be measured against. Look at a team like South Carolina that just won the title; it won two of the past five championships – is it time to say that it is now the premiere women’s hoops school? My answer: not so fast. Let’s take a look at a few of the narratives and legacies that were at stake this past Sunday and see where that leaves us, now that the season has concluded.
Geno as the greatest coach of all time?
Put simply, people hate sustained greatness. Here in the state of Connecticut, head coach Geno Auriemma is often seen as a holy figure because of the success he’s brought to the state and university, but elsewhere, people love to see him fail. If you measure success as winning the championship and failure as not winning, then such haters are thrilled right now. God forbid a coach makes it to the Final Four (and beyond) and comes out without a title to show for it. With a sport growing as quickly as women’s basketball, winning is not as easy as it used to be.
In a sport like men’s basketball, no coach goes to the Final Four more than two or three straight years in a row. It’s time to treat women’s basketball the same. The recruiting pool is getting deeper, and although UConn boasts seven top five recruits (four No. 1) in the past six classes, the difference between recruiting the fifth best player is all of a sudden much less than that of the 25th best. Auriemma still reigns supreme as the greatest coach ever. Until someone is able to match his unbreakable mark of 11 titles – that still has potential to grow – there won’t be a better coach.
Paige as the greatest Husky of all time?
This one is definitely going to be a bit tougher for Paige Bueckers fans to swallow. As good as she has been with winning National POTY last year, it’s nearly impossible for her to be the greatest UConn player of all time as many hoped and predicted. Even if she does use her extra year of eligibility that was granted thanks to COVID-19, at best she wins three championships. Looking at someone like Breanna Stewart, she only took four tries to win the championship. And each of the four tries, she was the best player. Even though it took toward the end of the year in 2013 for her to really emerge as the No. 1 option, she played well enough to earn MOP that year. And the next year. And the year after. And one more. Yes, there is more parity now then there was when Stewart played. But looking broadly and purely at achievements, it’s not possible for Bueckers to catch up to Stewart. I’m not saying that Bueckers won’t have her name up in the rafters in 20 years or that she can’t be great. The point is that she has already fallen behind Stewart, therefore, she cannot become the greatest UConn player of all time.
Is UConn still the measuring stick program?
YES, YES AND ALSO YES!!! People love to talk about how South Carolina beating UConn on Sunday was a “passing the torch” moment and now South Carolina is going to dominate the next however many years. This is just not the case. UConn has made 14 straight Final Fours and just made the championship. South Carolina won what was only its second program championship, and although it’s a premier program, it’s no UConn yet. Aside from a lack of titles, everything about UConn is better than every other school right now. They’re still dominating recruiting, with two top 10 players coming in next year. People forget that Final Fours and top five rankings can mean success too. At the peak of the UConn men’s success, they were winning an average of a title every five years. Panic happens easily, but I can assure you that there’s no reason to do so in this situation. The Huskies are on top.