Poe’s Perspective: March upsets are good for basketball

Julia Poe | Daily Trojan

Regardless of your feelings on the whole NBA vs. NCAA basketball debate, there’s no denying it — March is the best time of the year for any fan of the game. The sheer quantity of games, combined with weird tip-off times (hello to the only time of year when you can wake up, make breakfast and catch an excellent 9 a.m. Division I game), completely inexplicable upsets and last-minute buzzer-beaters, build up March Madness into perhaps the most fun three-week period of the year.

This year has been unlike any other. The whole nation seemed to stop for a few hours as No. 16 UMBC absolutely destroyed No. 1 Virginia last weekend, becoming the first 16th seed to do so in NCAA history. The following weeks were filled with upsets, as top ranked teams fell left and right to unsuspecting underdogs. Leonard Hamilton, the head coach of the Florida State team that knocked off Xavier, the other No. 1 seed to fall before the Sweet Sixteen, said it best: “It’s almost like a revolution.”

This revolution isn’t really a revolt of any kind. Rather, it’s a reflection of the growing parity of men’s college basketball. As the game has continued to grow, with the NBA and NCAA basketball alike amassing a greater crowd of fans every year, the young players who pick it up are becoming better and better.

Decades ago, it would be shocking to hear of a No. 1 seed getting knocked off before the Final Four. Now, it’s likely that the Final Four could see a set of teams all ranked lower than No. 1 and No. 2. That balance of talent between the top and bottom seeds is giving small teams hope and dynasty programs a reason to panic, and it’s beautiful to watch.

The same parity, however, doesn’t exist in the women’s game. With women’s basketball, there’s nothing all that mad about March — at least not about the ending. For the past decade, the sport has been dominated by the University of Connecticut, which kicked off this year’s tourney with a 140-52 victory over St. Francis Pennsylvania. By half time, the Huskies had almost scored 100 points.

To be fair, it was pretty entertaining to watch a team score that many points in a single outing, and the first half was a decently good game of basketball to watch (after all, St. Francis did its best to keep pace by putting up 31 points). But by the fourth quarter, in which the Red Flash put up only 4 points, the quality of the game had flown out the window. Any blowout of that degree is painful to watch, no matter one’s fandom.

The University of Connecticut isn’t to blame for this phenomenon. Head coach Geno Auriemma is an incredible leader, and he has trained some of the finest athletes in the game, including Maya Moore and Sue Bird. His success has been built over a 33-season career, in which the team has grown into an internationally recognized powerhouse.

And it’s not as if his Huskies are invincible. Last year, the team’s tourney run was stopped short in the Final Four. But it’s been years since the Huskies didn’t make it to a Final Four. In men’s basketball, dynasties are built but remain very destructible, like that of Virginia. In the women’s game, that simply isn’t the case.

I’m not going to join the small group of haters who argue that UConn is bad for basketball. That simply isn’t the case. Auriemma is the best in the business, and his team wins because he has poured his heart and soul into the program he has built. There’s a reason that Auriemma was also the head coach of the U.S. national team, and a reason that half of that roster is filled with players from his college squad. The Huskies often represent the best that the sport has to offer.

But the lack of parity in the women’s game is reflective of the growth that still must occur in women’s basketball as a whole. I truly believe that parity occurs when a sport becomes better. As more players start their training at an earlier level, and have a wider range of great athletes to look up to and records to chase, a greater number of teams develop to a high level of talent and performance. This is why the men’s game is continuing to improve from year to year, and why this year’s March has been such a fireworks show.

As the women’s game continues to grow, we’ll hopefully see the same parity develop. This could take decades — after all, it’s been almost 80 years since the NCAA men’s tournament was officially started, and only now are we beginning to see this balance among the teams. But the development of that balance between teams — there is so much talent that a handful of programs simply can’t catch them all — will be a strong sign that the women’s game is finally developed to the same degree as the men’s.

One day, we might see the dynasty of UConn women’s basketball upset in the first down by some no-name squad. It’ll be an exciting moment when that day comes.

Julia Poe is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Tuesdays.