Wednesday, January 5, 2011

11 comments UConn's Women's Basketball Team Could Not Beat a Division-I Basketball Team

This may be the post where I offend a ton of women, if any women read this blog, or they may completely agree with me...I don't really know. We may have talked about a subject like this before, but I don't recall it. I think UConn's women's basketball team would lose a game to any Division-I basketball program that has enough scholarship players (five) to field a starting lineup. The source of my thought concerning this is Gene Wojciechowski's column on this issue. I respect women's sports, but the answer to this question isn't even in doubt in my mind.

But he can't have it both ways. He can't break UCLA's historic 88-game win streak, say basketball is basketball, but then become a miserable bastard when I ask one simple question:

Could Auriemma's No. 1-ranked UConn women's team, winners of 90 (and counting) in a row, beat the 345th-ranked -- last in Jeff Sagarin's Division I computer ratings -- Centenary men's team, losers of 14 (and counting) in a row?

My answer is a simple no. Centenary only has four scholarship players so they could possibly be beat depending on how good the non-scholarship players are, but I think any Division-I team that has enough scholarship players to field a starting lineup could beat the UConn women's team. I don't say this out of sexism, but out of the acknowledgment there are physical differences the women's team could not overcome. Basketball is basketball, but basketball is also a sport where the physical differences in talented players shows up the most. A team that is physically more talented than another team (all things being equal) have a built-in advantage. That is what I think the case would be here. This isn't even including the discussion on the Centenary men's basketball team is athletic or more athletic than the UConn women's team.

"If I had 13 scholarship guys, I would say we would absolutely win," said first-year Centenary coach Adam Walsh. "Seeing that we're competing with four scholarship players, I don't know."

Walsh laughed when he said it, which is better than I expected. I expected him to slam down the phone or ask Tucker Carlson to demand I be executed.

Topical reference! References like this are what makes Gene such a great (bad) sportswriter.

Instead, it's about trying to quantify just how amazing the UConn women are -- and doing so in terms guys can understand.

Really, I don't know if it is that complicated. Can a men's Division-I college basketball team beat the very best women's basketball team? That's the question and I don't think it involves a difficult answer. What the UConn women have done is amazing in the context of women's college basketball, just like what high school football teams that go undefeated is admirable in the context of high school football. Outside of the context of high school football, say that team was to go against a Division-I program,. then the high school team would likely be out of its realm and lose.

Walsh has watched Auriemma's Huskies.

"They're pretty good," he said. "I don't think a men's scholarship program loses to them. But I've had that debate myself. I think most coaches have had that debate."

I feel bad for however many Division-I college basketball coaches are asking themselves if their team can beat the UConn Huskies women's basketball team. I know some nights it may feel like a real question to these coaches, but it doesn't even seem like a real question to me. There is more that goes into a successful team than height and athleticism, but I simply think in a 40 minute game the Centenary men's basketball team would wear down the UConn women's basketball long as there wasn't a different set of rules when it comes to fouls and the physical play for the women.

"It'd be tough for us," said Walsh of a UConn-Centenary matchup. "I'm sure it'd be tough. I'm not dealing with scholarship guys. And that's no disrespect to the guys I have."

No, that is partial disrespect for the guys you have and mostly respect for the UConn women's team. It is partial disrespect for the guys on the team because athletically they should be able to beat a team of women (that isn't an All-Star team) and it is respect for the UConn's women's team because that team is really good and has been for a while.

Memphis beat the Gents by 64. Tulane beat them by 41 and LSU by 42. Marquette won by 29. Summit League opponent Oakland recently won by 27. Centenary plays hard, but it has only one player averaging double-figure points (Maxx Nakwaasah's 10.8). Its two tallest players (both 6-foot-8) average 1.5 and 1.4 points, respectively.

All of these teams are comprised of basketball players that are men. The Gents have two players that are 6'8" and though height isn't the end-all-be-all, these players each have a 3 inch height advantage over the tallest player on the UConn women's roster. So the Gents would have a clear rebounding advantage when those players are in the game. UConn has five players that are over six feet tall and Centenary has two players that are shorter than six feet tall and their weight ranges from 160 pounds to 245 pounds. I couldn't find the weights of the UConn women's basketball players, but I am assuming there isn't any player on the roster coming close to 245 pounds.

And Walsh's five leading scorers are 6-3, 6-6, 6-5, 6-0 and 6-1.

The entire starting lineup is not only comprised of men, who are probably stronger and more athletic than the UConn women's roster, but they are also all over six feet tall. This is an advantage when it comes to the UConn players getting a shot off on offense and rebounding. It is also an advantage when it comes time to substitute players into the game. Naturally, it will be more physically demanding for a women's team to play a men's team as compared to them playing a women's team, so I would assume the bench would be used more. The players coming off the UConn bench, like Samarie Walker, who plays the 5th most minutes on the team are going to have to also play at a high level to beat the men. It's not just about talent on each team, but the talent of the depth.

UConn's starting five goes 6-5 (Stefanie Dolson), 6-0 (Moore), 5-11 (Kelly Faris), 5-10 (Tiffany Hayes) and 5-7 (Bria Hartley).

I respect the hell out of Maya Moore but I question whether she can play power forward against a men's basketball team. That's the position she would have to guard and even against the smaller (for a power forward) presumed power forward for Centenary she would be giving up 5 inches. Take the fact they are talented women out of the equation and just look at the heights of the players for UConn and a team that is taller at every position would have an immediate perceived advantage in rebounding.

Throw in the fact they are women, even if they are highly athletic women, and they are still going against highly athletic men. So just on paper, it seems the men's team would have several physical advantages before even taking the court. Would UConn possibly give the Centenary team a run for their money? Maybe, but I think Centenary would win.

Tennis had Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs. Softball had pitcher Jennie Finch against major league players (they came, they saw, they whiffed).

This is a terrible comparison to Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs. Jennie Finch did throw well against major league players, but these players did not play softball. It's a different sport from baseball. I can understand the comparison if the major league players had trained for a period of time and played softball competitively, but hitting a softball is different from hitting a baseball. So while what Jennie Finch did was impressive, I am imagining if the major league players had dedicated their lives to hitting a softball they would have been able to hit her fairly effectively.

So why not the UConn women against a Division I or II or III men's team one of these days? Make it a preseason exhibition game. Designate a percentage of the proceeds to a charity of each program's choice. The V Foundation. Breast cancer research. Whatever. There are hundreds of worthy causes.

Because there is absolutely no upside to doing this. A Division-I men's team has no incentive to prove they can beat a women's basketball team. If they win, it was expected of them and if they lose they could possibly never recruit another basketball player again. Even when Centenary goes Division-III (which they are planning on doing), they may have a tough time recruiting. Sad...but true. There's no incentive for a Division-I team to set up this matchup.

UConn's women's basketball team has more incentive to set up a matchup, but not as much incentive as Gene would think. If the UConn women's team happened to lose, everyone who says negative things about women's basketball and the streak of 90 straight games UConn won in a row would feel vindicated. If the UConn women's team happened to win, then it would have been worth it to them. If they lose that game, then it will be a step back for women's sports in some respects.

I guarantee you it would get boffo TV ratings. At the very least, it would get bigger numbers than what the Huskies got for grinding Florida State into pepper flakes when they broke UCLA's consecutive win streak.

I realize ratings are the food that keeps networks going, but simply because this game would get good ratings doesn't mean it would be good for men's or women's college basketball. Sure, I would probably watch, and I don't want to sound cocky, but I don't think this would be good women's basketball because I think UConn would lose. Is it too much to ask that the Huskies accomplishment stands on its own? Why do these women have to compete against men?

No one is petitioning to see if the San Francisco Giants could beat the champions of the Japan league (though this would be somewhat different since it doesn't cross genders) to see how good they are, nor is anyone asking for women and men to compete against each other in other sports. It is not that bad keeping men's and women's sports separately instead of having them face off as if this answers every gender-based sports question for the next year.

It wouldn't matter who won the game.

No, I really think it would matter. Gene is telling us it wouldn't matter if the women beat the men or if the men beat the women? No matter the outcome, it matters and conclusions will be drawn.

The game would be a gimmick, a chance to prove that women's basketball doesn't need to prove a thing

This is stupid. The game would be showing that women's basketball DOES have to prove a thing. They will have to prove they can beat the worst Division-I college basketball men's team. They will have to prove their sport isn't a sport of inferior athletes. Specifically in this case UConn would need to prove their run of 90 straight games is on par with the UCLA record during the John Wooden era. Having this game would be entirely about proving something.

Instead, you'd play the game for the right reason -- for the fun of it.

Aren't all athletic events designed to be played for the fun of it? Isn't that the point of sports?

I respect women's basketball, but the differences in the men's college basketball game and the women's college basketball game would be too much for them to overcome to beat a Division-I men's college basketball team. In a one game playoff, I think the men win.

Now an All-Star team of women's college basketball players versus the Centenary team may be a different story...maybe.


rich said...

I love how everyone points the very few times that a woman has competed with men and succeeded and think that every great women's player has a shot against the men.

Billie Jean King beat Bobbie Riggs, who was 55 at the time. No one seems to remember that Riggs had beaten the previous women's number one handily a few months before.

BGF, you covered the Jennie Finch this well, so I won't add too much there. The trajectory and speed of a softball pitch is vastly different as you're essentially swinging up on the ball, something baseball players aren't used to.

So because an in her prime BJK beat a 55 year old man in her sport and Jennie Finch was able to strike out men playing a different sport, I'm to believe that it's possible for women to beat men playing the same sport at the same age in comparable leagues?

Writers seem to forget that Michelle Wie and Anika Sorenstam both got humiliated playing on the men's golf circuits. Now I know power players a role in golf, but I think that a woman would be able to compete with men at golf more easily than basketball.

Moreover, why even have the debate? I think a game against any D-I basketball team would be an absolute disaster for UCONN, but why even consider it? Even if you decide that UCONN could beat the worst NCAA team, how is it at all an accomplishment?

In today's society, we're told that everyone is equal and things like this are supposed to somehow prove that. I just don't see how the best women's team beating the worst men's team would make anyone feel better. "Hey, you beat the worst men's team in the league! Congrats, you still suck compared to men."

It's kind of like taking a kid who is doing really well at a community college, putting them at MIT and throwing a parade when they manage a D- in a class instead of failing.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Gene Wojciechowski ever bothered to put the question to Geno Auriemma himself. Because I imagine he'd have told Woj that his women wouldn't stand a chance.

I've heard stories of Auriemma bringing in men off the street to scrimmage his team. Not guys that play formally, but guys who's only court action otherwise would be a pick-up game. And these guys have restrictions put on them such as no jumping, no dunking, etc just to make it fair. Forget the #335 team in D-1 or D-3, I don't think the UConn women could be a varsity boy's high school team.

There may be sports in which women can fairly compete with men, but on the basketball court is not one of them.

Fred Trigger said...

Actually we have covered this topic before.

Had a pretty good discussion in the comments section if I remember right.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I didn't know Riggs had beaten the women's #1 a few months before. I don't necessarily like the competitions between men and women, it just seems like there are no winners that come out of it.

I think the part that was key is saying men and women of the same age in comparable leagues. That's what makes this so much different.

I would think women could compete with men in golf a little bit better, but I remember it didn't happen. It's not an insult to women, it is just they are different leagues. Comparing them does both men and women a least I think. What's so crazy is if UConn did beat Centenary then it really wouldn't prove anything other than they can beat a bad men's team. I just wish Gene would let the women have their title in women's college basketball. I'm not sure the women would want to play this game.

Anon, I don't think Gene did because he kept talking about what Auriemma WOULD say. I had not heard that Auriemma did that. That's not a bad idea, but those restrictions are what make a game a bad idea. There has to be a level playing field.

Women can compete with men in many sports and women can even compete with a man on a different level at a different age. I have been beaten by a woman at tennis. I was 16 and she was 21. I got my ass kicked but she also was #4 at her college and I didn't play tennis in college.

Fred, I didn't remember that. I like that we try to offend women on an annual basis.

your favourite sun said...

I see in the previous comments section you guys replaced Bobby Riggs with Jimmy Connors, even though Riggs had been correctly identified earlier, and not only did nobody catch it but the mistake was repeated. It's amusing because Connors is like 35 years younger than Riggs and if he lost to King at that time, it would have meant King was good enough to be top ten on the men's tour in 1973. Connors was only 20 or 21 when the match happened.

About Connors. He played a practice match against Navratilova when they were both near their peak. He granted her a huge lead(like a set and two breaks or something), allowed her to have one of the doubles lanes, and opened every game at love-30...and didn't come close to actually losing. I think McEnroe claims he didn't even lose a game. So I don't think Billie Jean King could defeat Jimmy Connors like some of you seem to remember.

The King/Riggs thing has to be the most overrated event in sports history, not in terms of impact but in terms of what actually happened. Riggs was 55 and even in his prime was nowhere near the level of a Connors or Sampras. If Serena was able to beat Connors or Johnny Mac in a match this year--which if such a match was staged, is a possible outcome--it would be roughly a thousand times more impressive because those guys were light years ahead of Riggs and also stay in shape by continuing to play competitively.

This is a completely different tangent than the current topic but I wasn't around for the previous one so I put it here.

Ryan said...

My junior year at Virginia I was on a pretty good intramural basketball team. We played pick up ball four or five times a week, and I happened to live where most of the athletes did (my roommates were on the football team) so the gym I frequented had a lot of athletes in it. One day after talking a lot of shit with a friend who was on the womens team, me and my buddies challenged them to run 5s. All five girls saw pt for the varsity team, and two started, while we maybe had two guys that could have played D3. It wasn't even close, we crushed them. They just couldn't stop us. Sure they buried open threes and took us every once in a while on pure conditioning, but it was never even close (we ran it back too, so it wasn't a fluke). And Uva is no joke womens team. Guys are just different to girls when it comes to basketball.

Martin said...

Pat Summit actually was the first coach to bring in guys to play the women's team at a major university. Or at least the first who got any notice about it. it was in a SI article maybe...15 years ago? Geno picked up on it from her, and as was stated, there are some pretty decent restrictions on the male players. They aren't there to beat the girls, or play against them, but to help them improve and get better.

Craig Kilborn talked about playing 1 on 1 with Rebecca Lobo way back when she was a college star, and beat her bad. He had been a Div 3 nobody or some such. It's a different beast, the game. If you remember the Nike commercial, it talked about 3 WNBA stars going down to the park in NYC to play pick up games...and it BRAGGED about how they managed to win some games. Really? 3 of the best female players on the planet managed to beat some dudes on a local pick up court? Sh-ZAM! I bet they could have beat me, my buddy Mike with the 20/400 vision and short and slow ass Dave our guard, but if I had my two talented friends, all of us over 6 feet, and could dunk....yeah maybe not.

Also, which ball would they use?

koleslaw said...

Todd Gallagher discusses this very subject in his book Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan

In the chapter entitled "How big is the gap between male and female atheletes?" one of the topics he covers is basketball. He mentions the one-on-one battle between Artie Lange and Marissa Graby, which Graby won by one basket.

Basically, the short of it is that the height and strength differential between men and women is so disparate that the woman's team would barely have a chance against a group of guys that were remotely capable of playing ball.

Nunyer said...

My standard response to this entry: Gene is a complete hack and nothing he says ever has any merit ever.

But yea... Unless you had severe height / weight restrictions involved, women just aren't going to compete with men at the team level. That isn't to say that women can't play.

To use a similar story as somebody before me, I went to what would be considered a mid-major college in basketball terms. This was in the early to mid 90s. At the student athletic complex, pickup basketball was huge. It was like a 200,000 sq ft facility, probably 8 full court pickup games going at any given moment that wasn't being used by intramurals. Lots of women played with the men, some of them members of the women's team. In my experience, only the guard types had any legit shot of competing with the men. The school's starting female PG had one of the quickest first steps I'd ever played against. She could get penetration against most male pickup players almost at will and lay-up with either hand. Problem was she was maybe 5'6" and would routinely get blocked by, well, just about anybody. She was a good passer, had a nice jumper if a slow release. If four regulars were looking for a fifth to run the point, she would get asked to play before some random dude that nobody was familiar with. So, at certain positions and in certain situations, I think women can compete with men and not embarass themselves. When you are talking about a team of women however, where you need size and strength at certain positions, it just ain't gonna happen against remotely competent male competition.

Bengoodfella said...

Sun, I don't think we meant to substitute Connors for Riggs. I didn't know Connors played the female and spotted her the huge lead and still won. I think I agree with you at this point.

Ryan, I had the same situation in college as well. It's a long story but I played women scrimmage-wise in college and it was all bullshit. It ended with them tripping some players on our team intentionally because they didn't like how physical we were playing. Not that normal women do that, but there's just a physical component to basketball that separates the men from the women. The women are physical, but in a different respect.

Martin, I didn't hear that about Craig Kilborn. I know he wasn't much of a player. This is what it comes to, we start to sound somewhat sexist in these discussions, but I just don't think the women can keep up. Why can't men and women's basketball just be different and respected in their own ways?

Koleslaw, I thought this was a more divided topic than the feedback I have gotten. I am going to rail against women more often.

Nunyer, what was interesting about the women I played is they pretty much told me they couldn't compete with us on our level and were going to cheat. I guess I didn't believe them. I think basketball is the sport with the biggest physical differential between men and women.

Anonymous said...

OK...Here is one example that I believe is relevant to this topic of discussion...When I was 13 years old...My travel soccer team...Ann Arbor Arsenal played the University of Michigan Women's college soccer team. The U of M women were a top 20 team in the country, full of 17-22 year old females who were all D-1A scholarship athletes. My travel soccer team was comprised of 13 and 14 year old boys, and we were without 2 of our best players. We beat the Michigan women's team 4-0, and the game wasn't even close. Let me repeat that...In a full-field soccer game...11 V 11...My youth travel soccer team (Ann Arbor Arsenal '84) pounded the U of M women (supposedly one of the best college women's team in the country) 4-0. Don't get me wrong...We were VERY GOOD...Even at such a young age...But still...They were twice as big as us, and we still killed them. We were still faster than them, and more skillful. Men are MUCH MORE athletic than women, and that is not going to change any time soon. That being said...Now at the age of 27 at 5 "8" weighing in at 20 lbs overweight 180...I would not be able to make the UCONN, BAYLOR, or TENNESSEE women's college BBALL teams.