Last month, when my editor tasked me with looking into the stats surrounding the notorious Harvard-Stanford 16 vs. 1 upset from 1998 for ESPNW, I didn’t know much about women’s basketball. When I found that upsets are much less common in the NCAA women’s tournament than in the men’s, my mind jumped to what seemed like a logical explanation: Perhaps the lack of upsets is caused by a lack of depth in the women’s game.
In particular, teams like the epically dominant University of Connecticut Huskies — newly minted winners of their third straight national title and the 10th of Coach Geno Auriemma’s reign — must be able to win so much because they get all the best players from a shallow talent pool. Even many who love and defend women’s basketball often judge it a little differently than men’s, on the presumption that it’s a less mature sport.
I don’t begrudge anyone for thinking this — I would still think the same if I hadn’t had the game on my mind for the past seven weeks. (Have I mentioned my editor is patient?) And it would make sense if there were any truth to the notion that women’s basketball is less talented.
But it isn’t. As it turns out, not only is women’s college basketball as strong and deep in college-age talent as the men’s game, but for the rarest talent, it is significantly more so.
And further down:
As you may have anticipated by now, the main thing that has an impact on competitive balance — and it’s a doozy — is the number of top players on the men’s side who leave college early, generally to enter the NBA draft. The 2015 NBA draft could see more than 50 early entrants; the WNBA draft this year had only two — and that was two more than it usually has.7
While virtually all the best female players of college age are playing college basketball, only a fraction of the best male players are.