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Geyer: Keep focus on players, not coaches’ rivalry

| Friday, April 5, 2019

Geno and Muffet. A tale as old as time (or at least as old as Geno). And every time UConn and Notre Dame play, it becomes the headline of the week.

We all know how the story goes. Two St. Joe’s grads. Two Hall of Fame coaches. Two of the most elite names in the history of college basketball.

But that’s exactly the point—everyone knows the story. So why do we cover it every time the teams match up? The stats don’t change. They’re still both legends. But what does change? The players—and that’s what these games should be all about.

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw celebrates after cutting down the net at Wintrust Arena after winning the Elite Eight on Monday.

At the end of the day, the Geno-Muffet drama does nothing but detract from the amazingly talented athletes who play in these games. Take this year for example. The Final Four matchup between the Irish and the Huskies is headlined by ten starters who are all averaging double figures in points per game and at least 27 minutes. Seven of the starters are projected to be selected in the WNBA draft, four of them in the first round.

That’s not to mention the records that these players have broken. Between the five of them, Notre Dame starters Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Brianna Turner, Marina Mabrey and Jackie Young have amassed 10,070 career points — a record for NCAA Division I basketball, men’s or women’s. In terms of program records, Ogunbowale now boasts the title of most career points at 2,572. Mabrey holds it for three-pointers made at 267. Turner for career rebounds at 1,010.

For their part, the Huskies aren’t too shabby either. Senior forward Napheesa Collier was named as a First Team All-American by both AP and USBWA. She was also named as a finalist for the Wooden Award, the most prestigious award in college basketball. She is averaging a double-double behind 21 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, and she’s shooting an incredible 61.5% from the field. The other UConn star is senior guard Katie Lou Samuelson, who is averaging 18.5 points per game and leads the team in made 3-pointers at 86 on the season. Samuelson was named USBWA Second Team All-American and AP Third Team All-American.

Bottom line? The lineups for these teams are incredible. These athletes are among the most elite in all of college sports—not just in women’s college sports.

But giving a platform to the Geno-Muffet drama does nothing but detract from the achievements of those on the court. Every moment spent talking about the coaches’ rivalry is one moment away from talking about how far these women have come, and how long and hard they’ve worked to get there.

In some ways, it’s like the Ball Family drama. Lavar Ball single-handedly ruined his son’s careers — Lonzo, Li’Angelo and LaMelo — due to his sheer inability to shut his mouth. The conversation shifted away from the incredible basketball players he raised, and towards his psychotic inability to relinquish control. Instead of letting his sons’ abilities speak for themselves, he caused the game of basketball to fall by the wayside.

I’m not at all suggesting that there are any remote similarities between who Lavar Ball and Geno/Muffet are as people — I’m simply saying that there is something to be said about the way that the outside drama has caused such an inversion in the priorities in both circumstances.

No disrespect, but this year, let’s leave the Geno-Muffet rivalry out of it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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