The most interesting sports debate I’ve had in 2017 isn’t whether the Falcons should’ve run the ball on second down or whether Bob Diaco is the second coming of Charlie McBride or whether Shawn Eichorst should give Tim Miles another year.
No, the topic that’s consistently stirred thought and debate is how good the UConn women’s basketball team is. Not in relation to other women’s teams or other sports dynasties. But in relation to men’s teams.
In other words, if you put the UConn women on the court against boys or men, at what level could they play? Small-class varsity high school basketball? Class A? Are they as good as an NAIA team? Are they equal to an all-state high school team?
I’ve discussed it with a bunch of basketball people — coaches, ADs, ex-players, both in men’s basketball and women’s. The range of answers is fascinating.
Here are some excerpts of their answers:
“They would beat any high school team. But all-state team, probably not.”
“Class A varsity. (Limited) only because of strength and athleticism, not skill.”
“They still play below the rim and don’t have the explosion to get by and get down the floor, but their skills and size would match them up against some average small college teams.”
“…the size and strength of a good HS boys team would cause them problems —many of the UConn players would start on a good HS boys team as an individual on that team, but they would fit with 4 other boys — I don't think you could have 5 together.”
“I bet they could beat the equivalent to the Nebraska Class B state champ, but not win the Class A tourney.”
“My guess would be somewhere between Class A varsity and all-state.”
The general opinion is that the UConn women would be one of the best high school teams in Nebraska, but not necessarily the best.
What do you think? Could UConn beat Nebraska Wesleyan? Papillion-La Vista? Gretna? Wahoo Neumann? All of the above? None of the above?
Women’s college basketball teams frequently practice against male college students who, in some cases, were good high school players. Two old friends of mine once served that role at Nebraska. The guys, not the Husker women, were the best players on the floor.
But we’re not talking about Nebraska here. It’s UConn, winners of 100 straight games. There’s a huge gap between Geno Auriemma’s team and everyone else.
A key question in the debate — raised by several respondents — is which ball we’re using. The smaller basketball is a huge advantage for the women.
I must confess, I was hesitant to even present this debate today because I know that in some way it minimizes UConn’s accomplishments. Why does every women’s achievement need to be compared to men? I apologize for that. But it's kind of like wondering if Alabama could beat the Cleveland Browns (no).
Face it, the hypothetical is really intriguing.
In 2005, I went to the John Deere Classic and watched 15-year-old Michelle Wie compete against PGA Tour pros — she beat playing partner Scott Gutschewski and almost made the cut. It was riveting. Imagine the buzz if Serena Williams entered the men's draw at the French Open?
Over the next two months, I will tune in occasionally as UConn pursues another national championship. But I gotta be honest, I’d watch a lot more closely if Geno’s team was the No. 1 seed in the Class A boys state tournament.
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>> I’ll say this about Tim Miles: If he draws 10,000 for a Valentine’s Day game against Penn State, he deserves another year. I’m kidding … sort of.
Friday’s Chatter focused on the arguments for (and against) Miles coming back. One of the biggest reasons for Miles is the absence of apathy. How many times does a coach (at a program like Nebraska) get fired when he's packing the building?
>> On another note, another good discussion spun out of Friday's blog. A friend of the blog texted me and basically said, “How can you compare Miles’ win percentage to Collier’s and Sadler’s when the Big Ten is so much better than the Big 12?”
Is that true?
According to his source, sports-reference.com, four of the 14 toughest schedules in Nebraska basketball have been played on Miles’ watch, including the two toughest.
▸ No. 1: 2016-17
▸ No. 2: 2012-13
▸ No. 8: 2013-14
▸ No. 14: 2014-15
▸ No. 41: 2015-16
Is that solid evidence that the Big Ten is superior to the Big 12? I’m not so sure. According to stat guru Ken Pomeroy, these are the national rankings of the Big Ten and Big 12 since 2008.
▸ 2017: Big 12 first, Big Ten fourth
▸ 2016: Big 12 first, Big Ten fifth
▸ 2015: Big 12 first, Big Ten fourth
▸ 2014: Big 12 first, Big Ten second
▸ 2013: Big Ten first, Big 12 third
▸ 2012: Big Ten first, Big 12 second
▸ 2011: Big Ten first, Big 12 fourth
▸ 2010: Big 12 first, Big Ten fourth
▸ 2009: Big 12 third, Big Ten fourth
▸ 2008: Big 12 second, Big Ten fifth
Advantage Big 12.
Now, maybe the Big Ten numbers are watered down by more teams (ahem, Rutgers). But it’s not like Nebraska is playing home-and-home against Wisconsin, Purdue and Maryland every year. Poor Barry and Doc had to play KU twice every year.
So how do you explain the sports-reference ratings?
One, Miles, to his credit, has been much more aggressive in nonconference scheduling. Collier’s and Sadler’s schedules were perennial jokes.
Two, Nebraska is playing 18 conference games now, compared to 16 in the old days. The average league game isn’t tougher, it’s just that NU is playing more of them. That makes a difference.
>> Sunday night on Twitter, I asked followers which Husker coach had the better (or less worse) tenure, Collier or Sadler. With 1,651 votes, the results were…
Collier: 37 percent
Sadler: 63 percent
>> Tom Crean is in trouble at Indiana again. You know it's funny, Nebraska football fans get a bad reputation for living in the past. Where is that criticism for Hoosier basketball?
Since 1994-95, Indiana has advanced to the Sweet 16 just four times — three under Crean. It's finished in the Top 25 only eight times.
Maybe it's harder to win at Indiana than we think.
>> Kevin Love will miss six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. Meanwhile, the Raptors just traded for Serge Ibaka. The East is suddenly up for grabs. Well, maybe not. But there is a good chance Toronto grabs the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
>> Finally, 63-year-old Bob Elliott is Nebraska’s new safeties coach. Makes a lot of sense. When you have a young, immature, volatile head coach, it’s wise to give him a cool-headed, experienced mentor.
That’s not a very good "Mike Riley is old" joke, is it. OK, let me try again…
Finally, Bob Elliott is Nebraska’s new safeties coach. Makes a lot of sense. You don’t want your head coach watching Andy Griffith re-runs all by himself.
I'll keep working on it.