More UConn: On flawed comparisons and future outlook

In my TV debut Sunday, I learned the reality of having limited time to present a case. I’m very happy for the opportunity, but I thought I’d follow up with some more thoughts.

First and foremost, and I think I tried to convey this in my original blog post and on the show, I respect the hell out of what Geno Auriemma has done with the Huskies.  Continue reading More UConn: On flawed comparisons and future outlook

Is UConn’s dominance bad for women’s basketball?

So is UConn’s dominance bad for women’s basketball?

Depends what you mean by that.

ESPN brought this up during halftime of an NCAA tournament game broadcast Saturday, and the analysts disputed the idea the Huskies’ being so good has hurt the quality of basketball being played.

I seriously doubt that’s what Dan Shaughnessy meant by his comment that got Geno Auriemma and then the ESPN analysts talking.

Of course this is the trouble with framing a debate around a tweet (something I try to avoid), but it also doesn’t really matter what he meant.

I’m not here to say if he was right or wrong. I don’t really care. While not exactly a new concept, it’s still an opinion that’s fair to express and a discussion worth having.

Does the dominance of Auriemma’s teams lessen the quality of the game overall? I can’t imagine anyone would argue it does. Is there any sensible way to make that case? Maybe, but I can’t think of one. Obviously there is no shortage of college teams out there trying to build a title contender.

Ohio State would not have fired its all-time winningest coach three years ago if it didn’t have eyes on a higher prize than winning the Big Ten (which shouldn’t be taken for granted by any means).

Plenty of teams are shooting for UConn, and many more are out there looking to jump from whatever level of competitiveness they currently occupy to the next one.

Now, is the Huskies’ seeming invisibility bad for the growth of the popularity of the game? Probably so.

I certainly can’t blame anyone who looks at their scores and figures there’s no point in investing much time in watching the women’s tournament. There’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar these days, and every little bit hurts when it comes to trying to get noticed.

It’s one thing to wonder if a team like last year’s Kentucky men’s squad can go undefeated but another to be pretty certain UConn will. (Especially since we’ve seen multiple women’s teams — and not just Connecticut — go undefeated in recent years while no men’s team has done so in decades.)

In his response to Shaughnessy’s Tweet, Auriemma made reference to Tiger Woods dominating golf at the turn of the century, a worthwhile analogy no matter which side of this debate you fall on.

“When Tiger was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf. Actually, he did a lot for golf. He made everybody have to be a better golfer. And they did. And now there’s a lot more great golfers because of Tiger.”

I’m not sure if Tiger made golf significantly more popular (maybe he did, but I’m pretty sure it was already very popular), but he probably made it appeal to a broader audience.

Although I remember a time when he seemed to be unbeatable — at least in majors — he wasn’t inspiring people to turn off their TV sets. There was a reason to watch, whether it was to see someone do something that had never been done before or to root for him to get knocked off his perch.

Woods also set a new example of how to play the game at an elite level, and a new crop of talented players came along to challenge him eventually.

If anyone has done that for women’s basketball, it was probably Tennessee. The Lady Vols were the first dominant program of the tournament era, which started in the early 1980s. They set a standard for people who might not have thought about getting into the game before to aspire to.

It’s probably not a stretch to say Tennessee begat Connecticut. The Volunteers were deep into their run before the Huskies really got going.

With multiple historic winning streaks and now more national titles, the Huskies appear to have passed Tennessee as the best program of all time.

The thing about UConn is Auriemma’s teams aren’t great because he simply recruits better players than everyone else.

He certainly does recruit great players — and all of his great teams have been built around a transcendent one for her time period — but the Huskies’ dominance (as opposed to just winning a lot) is more a product of the culture he has put in place. “Culture” has become a cliche in sports, seemingly more so lately than I can recall in the past, but it’s really hard to miss the fact something different is going on when you watch Connecticut play.

I got to see it first-hand in November when the Huskies visited Ohio State. While coach Kevin McGuff has his Buckeyes on the upswing, they were thoroughly crushed 100-56 by Connecticut at Value City Arena.

It was striking because while Ohio State played competitive games on the road against South Carolina and Notre Dame —the second- and third-ranked teams in the country — the Buckeyes were knocked out early by Auriemma’s club in front of a big, friendly home crowd.

The results pretty much confirmed what most probably already at least suspected: This season there is UConn and everyone else.

The striking thing about UConn was that despite their status as the three-time defending champions, even though Auriemma had multiple players who were the best recruits coming out of their states as high school seniors, the Huskies played really, really hard. There were no letups. They were relentless on the defensive end and efficient on offense.

No matter who he put in the game, they played like they were at an open gym with one roster spot available. It was their first game of the season, but the defending champions played like there was no tomorrow.

Afterward, Auriemma was asked what makes his team so good at going on those knockout runs.

“I wish I had the definite answer to that — I really don’t,” he said before basically explaining it in full.

“I think it might have something to do with the intensity level that we bring that generally doesn’t waiver. So we’re not a spurt team. We don’t spurt and then stop and then try to pick up another spurt later and then stop. We play. And then when we have an opportunity to get one, it fuels us. And we just keep going. And we still back up a little bit. There were times we did some stuff that we’re not proud of, but we’re not one of these teams that when we get up a little bit we relax. I don’t have those kinds of players. We don’t practice like that and I don’t coach like that.”

So to me the idea Auriemma isn’t just building practically unbeatable teams because he plucks the top three or four players from the top of the recruiting lists every year is a good thing for the game. (For what it’s worth, he doesn’t dominate recruiting the way John Calipari and Nick Saban do.)

But another part of Auriemma’s response to Shaughnessy also shows the downside of dominance.

“Nobody’s putting a gun to your head to watch. So don’t watch. And don’t write about it. Spend your time on things that you think are important. If you don’t think this is important, don’t pay any attention to it. The fact that you have to comment on it, says something about you, doesn’t it? We are where we are. We are what we are. You know? We do what we do. We do what we do.”

I see where Auriemma is coming from, but to me more people watching and talking about women’s basketball is important for the growth of the sport, so one shouldn’t totally dismiss those who might lose interest because they already know who’s going to win.

It’s worth noting Woods lost more often than UConn does even when he was at the top of his game. There is only one “major” every year in college basketball, and a little more than a week from now, Huskies will have won six of the last eight with four undefeated seasons mixed in there. Last year, they beat Notre Dame by 10 points in the final. The year before that, it was a 21-point win over the Fighting Irish, and in 2013 they slipped by Louisville by 33 to claim the title.

That isn’t good for ratings. Lately it appears to be just one more  thing that gets people talking about the wrong things.

On the other hand, it isn’t deterring anyone at Ohio State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Maryland, etc. from trying to change the narrative next year, either.

Ameryst Alston, Cait Craft and Kelsey Mitchell speak to the media in Columbus.
Ameryst Alston, Cait Craft and Kelsey Mitchell speak to the media in Columbus.

Ohio State football starting over again this spring

Spring football is generally a time for optimism, but Urban Meyer had some bad news to share after things began Tuesday.

A bunch of Buckeyes he would like to see step up to grab open starting positions — there are only 16, after all — are going to be limited or out completely this spring.  Continue reading Ohio State football starting over again this spring

Ohio State NFL Combine review 2016

Another NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone, and this one had a distinct Ohio State flavor.

The 14 Buckeyes in Indianapolis got to meet NFL scouts and personnel and compete against their peers for the right to be picked in the next draft. IMG_1220

Some random thoughts on numbers they posted and reaction to some scouting reports I have seen follow.  Continue reading Ohio State NFL Combine review 2016

Ohio State, Meyer mine Michigan again for football talent

While Michigan football practices in Florida, a Michigan high school football player became an Ohio State verbal commit.

The former is a new development, but the latter isn’t  as rare as one might expect.

The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium
The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium

Three-star athlete prospect Antjuan Simmons of Ann Arbor Pioneer High School could be the fifth player from the Great Lakes State to sign with the Buckeyes since Urban Meyer took over as head coach of the Buckeyes in late 2011.  Continue reading Ohio State, Meyer mine Michigan again for football talent

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett talks young Buckeyes WRs

Ohio State will have an entirely new starting lineup at wide receiver in 2016, and there figures to be a huge competition for playing time in Columbus this spring.

Despite the graduation of Braxton Miller and Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall opting to go pro early, Ohio State is still set to have more than a dozen scholarship receivers this fall — all of whom were four-star recruits.

J.T. Barrett met with the media Wednesday and talked about what he has seen so far in winter workouts, including the return of Corey Smith and Noah Brown as well as early enrollee Austin Mack.