The Great Debate: USC Women’s basketball is better than the men’s team

The greatest time of the year is almost upon us: March Madness. After about five months of regular season play, the time of attempting to watch four games at once during your classes has returned. And with that, we can start to figure out who are the contenders and pretenders in college basketball. So, why not do this with the two college basketball teams we have here on campus: the women’s and men’s teams.

Heading into the season, the two programs had very different expectations. The men’s team was only two years removed from their Elite Eight run and were coming off a year where they tied a program record for most wins in a season with 26. On the other hand, the women were coming off of a 12-16 season and hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in nine years. It was expected that the men would return to the tournament once again, and the women were trying to see what the second season of Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb would bring.

At this point in time, both teams sit with the same record of 21-8. The women have finished their season, and the men have two more games against the Arizona schools. Although their records may indicate that they’ve had equal success, the games that make up those records and the strength of the opponents they’ve played tell a different story.

Currently, the USC women’s team has the 65th hardest schedule in women’s college basketball, while the men have the 80th hardest schedule in men’s college basketball. It might be a negligible difference in the strength of schedule, by a few percentage points, but consider that the majority of the games played are against conference opponents. Based on RPI rankings, the men’s Pac-12 is the worst of all Power Five conferences and only the seventh-best conference overall. Meanwhile, the women’s Pac-12 is the best conference, meaning it has the toughest opponents, based on RPI in all women’s college basketball.

It’s also worth noting that the women’s team has a significantly higher NET ranking than the men’s team. The women’s current NET ranking is 30th in the country, while the men are sitting at 45th. Based on these metrics, the women are not only playing tougher opponents but are getting higher-quality wins.

Obviously, there is no perfect comparison when looking at women’s and men’s basketball teams. They essentially play in two different leagues with different play styles.

Even when looking at two men’s teams or two women’s teams from different conferences, there’s no end-all-be-all to know exactly which team is better. The best we can do is look at their current resume and compare them; when doing that, it becomes evident the women’s team sticks out compared to the men.

If you’ve seen the women play this season, you know they pass the eye test. Their defense is Final Four caliber, allowing just 54.8 points per game, good for 16th in the entire country. Their win against then No. 2 Stanford earlier this season doesn’t get talked about enough, and just how impressive it was. It takes a special kind of team to beat a Stanford team that had won 39 straight games against Pac-12 opponents.

The offense is the only thing that can be shaky at times for the women, 69.2 points per game, but they’ve had their share of close games and know what it takes to win them. Their last six games have all been within 6 points, winning four of those games. The USC women have been waiting a long time to return to March Madness, and this is their year to show out.

At the moment, both teams are right on the edge of the bubble in terms of actually making it into the tournament. ESPN has the men’s team as one of the last four teams, and the women nestled into a ninth seed. It’s hard to know if both teams will definitely make the tournament, but if they get at least one win in the conference tournament, both programs should be able to book their ticket to the big dance.

The men’s and women’s teams have had memorable seasons, but it’s the women’s time to shine this March. The women are not just the better USC team, but they’re a lot better than people give them credit for. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the women win a few games at the Pac-12 tournament and keep on dancing all the way to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament; they’re just that good.

Stefano Fendrich is a sophomore writing about his opinions on some of sport’s biggest debates in his column, “The Great Debate,” which runs every other Tuesday. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan.