“Why UConn is so dominant in college basketball”

Great points in this piece:

But it’s not just about dynasties like Connecticut and Tennessee. The women’s tournament on the whole tends to have fewer surprise wins. Only 18 women’s No. 12 seeds have defeated No. 5 seeds in NCAA D-I opening-round games since 1994, when the women’s tournament grew to 64 teams. On the men’s side, there have been 35 No. 12 wins over that period. For No. 13 seeds, its six wins on the women’s side compared to 17 on the men’s side. For No. 14 and 15 seeds, it’s zero on the women’s side compared to 16 (combined) on the men’s side. (However, the women’s tournament is the only one to ever have featured a No. 16 seed winning its opening game — Harvard’s 1998 defeat of Stanford.)

This isn’t to say the women’s tournament has to look just like the men’s…but the men’s tournament does give a picture of how competitive the sport could be…….

So what keeps those five or six teams so far removed from the rest every year? There are a few theories, none of which likely explain the whole thing. But taken together, they could explain why the women’s sport is so dynasty-prone (and upset-proof).

Great coaching attracts great players. Many people attribute Connecticut’s consistent dominance to Coach Geno Auriemma, who in 1985 took over the program and eventually turned it into a powerhouse.

“He’s established a culture of winning,” says Barbara Jacobs, associate commissioner for women’s basketball for the American Athletic Conference. “I think it is rare and I think it is special.”…..

But in the WNBA, it’s even more restrictive: that league requires potential draftees to be 22 and either have graduated from a four-year college or to have played two years in another professional league. That means the best college players stick around for four years, making great teams even greater (and stopping other teams from rising).

And that in fact was part of the WNBA’s rationale, as Ackerman said back when she was president of the league — “It’s enabled the women’s college game to stay very vibrant, and that’s critical to us as league. We need a strong college game in order for women’s pro basketball to be successful.”…..

The game is too physical. Ackerman now believes part of the problem is also that the game is getting too rough……

A need for more coaching talent (and maybe high school talent as well). Women’s college basketball has some tremendous athletes and coaches. But there aren’t a lot of Geno Auriemmas or Pat Summitts out there — or, as the Ackerman Report put it, there’s a “lack of depth in the quality of coaches.” And some coaches told Ackerman they’re concerned that girls aren’t learning the fundamentals as well as they should in high school — improve the fundamentals among all high school players, and it could raise the college game……

The writer is correct in that players gravitate toward great programs, and they don’t often want to try anything new. But they also want the glory.

Senior Janae Sharpe told me last fall that she want to Cal State Northridge so she could help build a program. University of Washington sophomore Kelsey Plum said the same thing. That used to be more common, but now, players like Sharpe and Plum are the exception. More often, athletes want titles and rings these days instead of rebuilding work and more playing time.

Fundamentals have been slipping at the high school level for a long time, due to the proliferation of club ball teams, for one. These teams try to get kids seen by as many coaches as possible, which means sacrificing teaching time.

Quality coaches are definitely lacking at the professional level, but there are plenty of fantastic coaches in colleges. What is keeping them all from becoming the next Pat Summitt or Geno Auriemma? Being at mid-majors, playing in weak conferences, athletes who only want to play for big name schools.

For now, it’s UConn and Notre Dame in the title game yet again. Unless there is more change in what we value in athletics, Final Four participants won’t change much.