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ND Women’s Basketball Commentary: Irish have chance to take out powerhouses

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sitting at 2    1-1 and an 8-1 record in the Big East, Muffet McGraw’s squad has the campus talking about women’s basketball again. As expected, the comparisons have been drawn to the 2001 national title team and whether No. 3 Notre Dame can deliver the program’s second NCAA title.

But consider this. Since the establishment of the Women’s NCAA Division I Championship in 1982, Tennessee and Connecticut have appeared in 19 of the 28 championships played. Tennessee is 8-5 all-time in the title game, while Connecticut is a perfect 6-0.

This year Tennessee’s record of 21-2 has the Lady Volunteers ranked fifth, while the Huskies’ perfect mark of 23-0 and the pursuit of their own consecutive-wins record makes them the undisputed No. 1 team in the country.

If you do the math, there is a 70 percent chance that one of the two programs appears in the national championship game (19 divided by 28, carry the 8, round up, anyway). The real chance Tennessee or Connecticut makes it to the national championship? One hundred percent. If you’ve taken fundamentals of arithmetic and you don’t believe me, turn on ESPNU and watch just one of their games.

Senior guards Ashley Barlow, Lindsay Schrader and Melissa Lechlitner couldn’t care less about the numbers I just rolled off. Winning is winning, and if they have a shot of making it to title game, they know they will have to knock off Tennessee or UConn in what will likely be portrayed as a stunning upset.

Unlike the men’s game, my problem is the absolute lack of parity in women’s basketball.
Men’s basketball still has its traditional powerhouses in UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and others, but only North Carolina has won more than three championships in the past 30 years. March Madness is exciting because of the inevitable upset, the Cinderella story, not the dominance of one or two teams every year.

No one is denying that men’s basketball is a completely different animal than women’s. It has more viewership, more fans and most importantly, more coverage. But why do the media have to portray two teams as defining the entire women’s game instead of six, seven or eight?

Connecticut and Tennessee have the most championships and they deserve all the respect and attention that comes with that accomplishment. Notre Dame football enjoys being a product of that system, and rightly so. But when two programs absolutely dominate the coverage of their sport because of their success year-in and year-out, something’s got to give.

Huskies coach Geno Auriemma and Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt have become national icons, but what do they have over McGraw? More wins, more WNBA products, and more attention, yes, but more talent as a coach? I doubt it.

A South Bend native, freshman guard Skylar Diggins is having a sensational year for any player, let alone a freshman. But the national recognition she would be getting if she played for Auriemma or Summitt, the recognition Maya Moore and Candace Parker benefitted from, is nowhere to be seen.

Maybe the Irish are the real benefactors of the system. Maybe Notre Dame sneaks under the radar as a No. 3 seed, pressure-free, all the way to a defining game against Connecticut or Tennessee, and wins. But does anyone outside of Notre Dame notice?
I believe this team can win a national championship. I want it to be our fourth, or fifth, or sixth title, but I’ll take it. Rome wasn’t built in a single day, but another Irish title is another step to eliminating the disparity in a sport that deserves better.