UConn women vs. Centenary men
Geno Auriemma is going to hate this column. Maybe even have a heart attack.
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?
"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. But Walsh gets it. This isn't about praising UConn at Centenary's expense. The winless Gents are doing the best they can as they make the transition from a Division I program (and a full Division I schedule) to Division III beginning next season.
Instead, it's about trying to quantify just how amazing the UConn women are -- and doing so in terms guys can understand. And guys everywhere -- guys who watch and appreciate men's and women's college hoops, guys who play in regular pickup games (hello), guys who suck in regular pickup games (hello again) -- always ask the question: Could the best women's team beat the worst men's team?
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."
Exactly. Why deny it? It doesn't make you a bad person just because you want to compare apples to zucchini. Or in this case, the 2009 and 2010 champions to the struggling Gents.
I'm with Walsh. No D-I men's program with a roster of players on full scholly would get beat by the UConn women. But I'd pay to watch the game. I'd pay to watch Maya Moore, UConn's electric senior forward, run through the layup line.
"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."
Walsh had 11 scholarship players and two recruiting commitments when the decision to drop to Division III was announced in July 2009. But the recruits de-committed and other players transferred -- all with Centenary's blessings. Plus, Walsh couldn't offer any scholarships this year and can honor existing scholarships only through next season.
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. And Walsh's five leading scorers are 6-3, 6-6, 6-5, 6-0 and 6-1.
"It's different," he said.
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). Moore averages 24.8 points, Hayes 16.5 and Hartley 14.1. See where I'm going with this?
I'm not saying UConn would win, but it'd be more interesting than watching the Huskies beat the Holy Cross women 117-37 (Nov. 14) or Howard 86-25 (Nov. 27) or Florida State 93-62 (Dec. 21). Those aren't games; they're human sacrifices.
Walsh isn't embarrassed to admit that Moore could play for the Centenary men's team. That's because Moore could play for more than a few Division I men's teams.
"She's that good," said Walsh. "There's not a whole bunch [who could], but she's one of them."
Tennis had Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs. Softball had pitcher Jennie Finch against major league players (they came, they saw, they whiffed). At Tennessee, Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt has her team practice and scrimmage regularly against men.
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.
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.
It wouldn't matter who won the game. The game would be a gimmick, a chance to prove that women's basketball doesn't need to prove a thing. Instead, you'd play the game for the right reason -- for the fun of it.
Not even Auriemma can hate that idea, right?
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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