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.  They are on a higher level because he is not just a great recruiter but because he understands how to build a roster and how to develop a winning culture.

Everyone tries to recruit the best players, and if you look at he game today, they seem to be fairly well distributed around the country.

I certainly feel like the quality of the game has risen to in my 10 years covering it. There are more noticeably athletic players, and the freedom of movement efforts caught on more quickly in the women’s game than the men’s.

I absolutely believe the baseline expectation of excellence — and the execution of that exhortation — from UConn gives programs across the country even more resolve to get better and an example to follow.

I wouldn’t necessarily think that if Geno just recruited a new all-star team every year like John Calipari or Nick Saban. In that case, it would be easy to see other teams feeling like the field is so tilted they will never catch up.

However, with stars like Brionna Jones, A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Mitchell, Nina Davis and Kelsey Plum (with numerous more examples) to build around, there are a lot of teams that should feel like they have upward mobility. But at the same time, UConn’s current run (which is probably headed for a pause if not an end with some key graduations scheduled for this year) seems to have diminishing returns as far as growing the popularity of the game.

The title game matchup with Notre Dame two years ago did a great rating as UND was undefeated, and it was part of a rivalry that grew in the old Big East. The games before and after? Not so much. (Via SportsMediaWatch.)

I don’t blame the average sports fan for being bored with the state of things. If there is no doubt about the outcome, why watch? I understand greatness has a certain draw, but I’m not sure if that applies to the casual fan.

And beyond ratings, it doesn’t feel like the Huskies generate as much buzz as they probably should considering they are working on a historic feat.

So I disagree with Geno when he says, “Don’t watch.” I want people to watch because I enjoy the game and I like having more people to discuss it with. I can’t deny it’s more fun (and at times challenging) to write about things more people express an interest in.

He doesn’t need to change a thing. I love his candidness and the way he has built his program, but I do want to see others reach their level because I think that would ultimately be better for the game than what is going on now.

Beyond that, I don’t really believe the Huskies are being held to an unfair standard because comparisons to most other programs just don’t fit. And in some cases, questions were asked about whether or not those dominant teams were bad for their sport or league.

First off, UConn is far more dominant than the Patriots in the NFL or even Tiger Woods was in golf.

Their run has lasted longer than the most recent one by the Yankees, who you could argue were bad for baseball because of the (probably correct) view they were taking advantage of a rigged system. I certainly recall as a baseball fan feeling some disgust in the late ‘90s about seeing them enter every season as the favorite because they could just throw money at whatever problems they might have.

The Huskies are about to match the 1990s Bulls with six championships in eight years, but guess what? Sports Illustrated ran a cover story asking if Michael Jordan’s second three-peat squad was bad for the NBA.

 

I’ve seen John Wooden’s UCLA men’s teams brought up, but the landscape was so different I’m not sure we can draw any accurate comparisons.

And yet the NCAA tournament record book notes the first use of the term “Final Four” was in a Cleveland Plain Dealer story detailing why famous coach Al Maguire and others thought the Bruins getting beat was good for the sport.

Moreover, it seems to me the men’s college game didn’t really blow up until after UCLA’s run was over. That could be a coincidence as the tournament expanded to more closely resemble its current form and we got transcendent players like Magic, Bird and Jordan in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Certainly there are people who romanticize the Wooden era, but how well do they actually represent the general fan attitude?

UConn has a lot more competition for eyeballs, and the same can be said of the earlier Yankees dynasties or the Celtics who dominated the NBA before the Showtime Lakers gave them a cross-country rival.

Finally, is having this discussion better than debating the historic greatness of Connecticut? Is it taking time away from properly recognizing where they fit in the pantheon of past champions?

Whatever the case, I don’t think this conversation will be repeated next year. With Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson graduating, the Huskies have a pair of All-American to replace.

Stewart in particular was the best trump card in the game. It’s hard enough to beat the best team — when they also have the best player, you might as well forget it.

But next season several teams (including Ohio State and Maryland in the Big Ten) will be able to make the claim they are not only deep and talented but have legitimate national player of the year candidates.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see what it does for ratings and buzz.

Here’s the segment if you missed it:

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