Commentary

Tennessee or UConn -- who's really the best?

Updated: February 4, 2008, 1:53 PM ET
By Charlie Creme | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Click here for Charlie Creme's Feb. 4 bracket projection.

At the risk of stealing an idea from my friend and mentor Joe Lunardi, the godfather of Bracketology, his column last week on what the Duke men's program has accomplished with its run of No. 1 seeds got me thinking. How do the elite programs in the women's game -- Tennessee and Connecticut -- stack up to that kind of consistency of excellence?

Pretty well, in fact. And since the programs' annual regular-season matchup is on vacation (relax, I'm not going to get into that soap opera), it's even more interesting to compare Pat Summitt's and Geno Auriemma's teams this season since they are undoubtedly the two best squads in the land in 2008.

As with the Duke men, the achievement of both programs is amazing. It's not an apples-to-apples comparison; the men's game has been deeper over the past 15-20 years. But it doesn't diminish what the Lady Vols and Huskies do year after year or make the numbers any less staggering in their own context.

Let's use the modern era of women's basketball (that is, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994) to compare the two. In those 14 seasons, Tennessee was a top seed in all but three seasons. That's consistency to set your watch by. Ironically, the only season Tennessee failed to earn a 1- or 2-seed, the Lady Vols won the national championship. All of this comes with playing the country's toughest schedule year after year.

Much like the Duke men's dynasty of the 1980s and '90s, Tennessee, from 1996 through last season, reached the Final Four nine times in 12 seasons, winning four NCAA titles.

Ironically, 1994, the first year of the tournament expansion, is also the birth of UConn women's basketball as we know it. The Huskies earned a top seed that season and then failed to do so only once until 2004. In those same 14 seasons since 1994, Connecticut was a No. 1 seed on 10 occasions, one fewer than the Lady Vols. The Huskies also trail Tennessee in Final Fours (10 to seven), but UConn has five national titles to Tennessee's four in that time frame; overall, Tennessee has the most NCAA titles (seven), with UConn's five in second place.

So which program is superior? Certainly the answer is debatable and extremely close. Here are the numbers (since 1994) side-by-side (* the records and head-to-head marks below refer to NCAA Tournament play):

TENNESSEE VS. CONNECTICUT
Teams No. 1 seeds NCAA titles Final Fours Record* Head-to-head*
Tennessee 11 4 10 62-10 1-5
Connecticut 10 5 7 57-9 5-1

No need for the drum roll, but I'm going to go with Tennessee by a margin smaller than most of us like our turkey sliced at the deli.

The tournament head-to-head record stands out. But the Lady Vols get the edge because they have been slightly better on their way to the tournament (and also in it) most recently. UConn went three straight seasons (2004-06) without earning a No. 1 seed, while Tennessee has failed to do so only once since 2002. Earning a top seed is the measure of a 30-game regular season, which is how this column and women's Bracketology got their start to begin with.

And it's worth noting that the Huskies haven't been to a Final Four since 2004 (which, yes, they won) and Tennessee has done it twice since '04, winning last season's national championship. Last April's title run, in fact, puts the Lady Vols over the hump ever so slightly. If they had not won the championship, the vote would have gone the other way. That's how close these two programs are. Not only close, but historic. And yes, in the same conversation as those Duke men's teams when the topic of basketball success hits your local tavern.

Now, if we could just get the Lady Vols and Huskies to play each other again.

Charlie Creme can be reached at cwcreme@yahoo.com.

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Women's College Basketball
Charlie Creme projects the women's NCAA Tournament bracket for ESPN.com.