The best basketball in the country is not being played by men. Watch an NBA game. Players pass the the ball around the perimeter until it ends up in the hands of an extremely talented player. He will go one-on-one with his defender and put up a shot. Maybe he’ll score, maybe he won’t. Red Auerbach and John Wooden roll over in their graves.
Watch an NCAA men’s basketball game. There are great individual performances, but the best teams are led by individual players. The Jimmer Fredettes of the world can carry teams on their back and win games by themselves. And there is a lot of excitement in that, but there is something missing.
Something that can be found in women’s basketball — teamwork. While the best players in NCAA men’s basketball often leave after one season for the riches of the NBA, the best women players ordinarily stay four years. Because the WNBA is a more tenuous career choice than the NBA, women stay to get their degrees, and in the process learn how to play basketball — a sport that takes more to play than one-on-one skills.
By staying with the same coach for four years, the girls understand the game, and the system they are playing in, better than their male counterparts. I’ve heard guys say they can’t watch women’s basketball because girls can’t do the same things men do. The only thing women don’t do as often as men is dunk — and men couldn’t always dunk in games either. Between 1967 and 1976, dunking was banned in the NCAA.
Sure, dunks are exciting, but the most exciting dunks come off a basketball relic — a well-timed pass off of a set play. Look at UConn. Arguably, the best player in men’s and women’s basketball play at UConn in Kemba Walker and Maya Moore. Walker scores a number of his points off of isolation plays where he beats his defender off the dribble and puts up a shot. Moore has an entirely different style. She scores a number of her points on jump shots off off-the-ball screens. I’ve watched UConn games this year where Moore scores 30 and didn’t even notice because she does it within the flow of the game.
Give-and-gos, pick-and-rolls and backdoor cuts are still integral parts of the women’s game. Today and tomorrow, there is no men’s basketball on. But there are women’s games. Watch North Carolina play Kentucky, or Maryland play Georgetown. The style will be different than the men’s game. It is unlikely you will see a dunk, but you will see basketball played the way Red Auerbach and John Wooden taught it.
Granted, parity has not yet reached the NCAA women’s game at the same rate as in the men’s. There is no competition between the best teams in the tournament and the worst. But the first round is over, and so are the blowouts. March Madness is here, not just for men but women as well.
Passes, not dribbles. Open jumpers and lay-ups, not fadeaways in the face of the defender. Star players leading their teams — because they’ve been there before, not spoiled stars leaving after their one year in the purgatory that the NCAA so often is. That’s women’s basketball, and it’s where the best basketball in the country is played.
Comment below with your thoughts on the differences between the men’s and women’s game.
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