An eighth national championship for Geno Auriemma — this one by a record 33 points — only fuel the debate: Where does Auriemma rank against the all-time greats?
Well, in his own sport, it ties him with Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee coach. In college basketball period, it puts him behind John Wooden, who won 10 national championships.
Not that Auriemma is interested in comparisons to men’s coaches.
“On ESPN they put a list of John Wooden, Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp,” Auriemma said Tuesday. “I’m like that’s not how it works. I never beat Coach K in a game and I never coached against Coach Wooden. So the only person I compare myself to is Pat Summitt, and to be there in that spot with her, that means a lot to me.”
You can’t reasonably compare the men’s game with the women’s game because the lay of the land is totally different. In women’s basketball, the top five or so programs routinely get the top five players in each class. On the men’s side, a greater number of schools have a shot at landing the elite players.
Why? Because players leave early for the draft. There is tremendous turnover, which means programs that recruit at the highest levels — Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina — all have down years. The Tar Heels were bounced in the second round this season; Kentucky didn’t even make the tournament.
In women’s hoops, a “down year” for the bluebloods is an Elite Eight.
Because in women’s hoops, landing an elite prospect means you get her for four years. Which means, for four years, you’ll have a good shot at the Final Four. And that builds on itself.
If WNBA players made NBA money, Breanna Stewart would be off to the draft. Maya Moore would have stuck around for one year, and the same goes for Diana Taurasi. Even with this year’s team, it’s possible that Bria Hartley would have gone pro following her sophomore season, leaving UConn thin in the backcourt.
This is all hypothetical, so it’s not really worth elaborating. Let’s just leave it at this: Auriemma’s remarkable accomplishment of eight national titles cannot be compared with Coach K’s four or Jim Calhoun’s three. They are two separate milestones.
*The vaunted American Athletic Conference will have both defending champs — the Louisville men and UConn women — in its league next season. So, yeah….take that Catholic Seven.
*After watching Louisville manhandle UConn in January, I thought, “This is the best team in the country — for sure.” I maintained throughout the year that the Cardinals would be my national champion. Then they had to get the No. 1 overall seed and I had to panic and pick Kansas. The lesson: Never pick against the best team because everyone else is picking the best team.
It’s OK to conform. Followers finish first (or tied for first). Leaders finish last.