NCAA tournament is best time of year for sports fans

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March Madness is upon us. For sports fans, the NCAA tournament is probably the best time of year. College basketball has everything a sports fan would want: extraordinary athleticism, fierce fan loyalties, close games, traditional rivalries and a tournament that, unlike its college football counterpart, really gives lots of teams a chance to surprise and shine at the end of the season.

The Washington Post is my morning newspaper, and it has featured some interesting stories. Their overly sympathetic story on Duke's Grayson Allen, who has a penchant for kicking or tripping players on opposing teams, was one such. Their profile of Villanova coach Jay Wright was another.

But the Post has spent precious little time covering what is not only the biggest story in college basketball, but the biggest story in all of sports: The UConn women's basketball team that has won 107 consecutive games. That is not a typo. One hundred and seven consecutive games. The Lady Huskies have not lost since Nov. 17, 2014, when they lost a nail-biter to Stanford.

Most of the UConn women's games since have not been nail-biters. Of their 107 wins, 104 were by double-digits. Some are blowouts, like their 102-37 pasting of South Florida in January. Indeed, 60 of their 107 wins have been by a whopping 40 points or more. This season, they had a couple of close games, beating Notre Dame early in the season by 72-61, and they had to struggle to beat Tulane 63-60 last month, which was kind of strange because they had beaten Tulane earlier in the season by a huge margin, 100-56.

In short, the UConn women are dominant. Dominant in a way no men's team is dominant. Dominant in a way no other team in any sport I can think of is dominant. And, most stunningly of all, they have remained dominant even after losing one of the best women's college basketball players of all time, Breanna Stewart, who graduated last year.

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There is a case to be made that having such a dominant team is not good for the sport. Obviously, as a diehard UConn women's fan, I am not particularly susceptible to that argument. Still, it deserves a response. First, in the last 10 years, other teams have won the national championship: Tennessee (twice), Baylor, Texas A&M. Second, I don't think it was bad for baseball when the New York Yankees won six World Series in the 1950s. It gave the other teams something to shoot for. It made everyone raise the quality of their game. Something similar is happening in women's basketball. UConn may be dominant, but they can't take a game against Notre Dame for granted.

In Connecticut, women's basketball does receive the kind of coverage it should receive everywhere. Whenever I call friends back home, how "our girls are doing" is almost always a subject of conversation. My father never missed a game; if we were on the phone, and no matter what we were discussing, if the game was starting, the call had to come to a quick conclusion.

Sports loyalties are strange things. Woe betide anyone who calls my colleague Tom Roberts when a Kansas Jayhawks game is on the television. Tom and I talk about many things, and he describes attending a game at the Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, with the same reverence with which I describe eating the roasted lamb at Romolo's in Trastevere. If the UConn men lose, as they did already this year, I cheer for the Jayhawks simply out of loyalty to Tom.

My friend and sometimes intellectual sparring partner, Rick Garnett, who teaches law at the University of Notre Dame, holds many public policy positions I do not share, but his only real heresy is his devotion to Duke basketball. When we email each other about a particular controversy, and the discussion gets heated, I will send him video of the final minutes of the 1999 tournament final when UConn's Khalid El-Amin sank two clutch free throws in the final five seconds of the game. It makes Garnett a little crazy. He responds with the 1990 game in which Duke's Christian Laettner hit a buzzer beater that defeated UConn.

What I think everyone can celebrate, however, is the way women's college basketball has blossomed in the past two decades. If you have never watched a women's game, do yourself a favor and tune in during the next few weeks. These women are fast. They are physical. Their athleticism astounds. Their shot-making puts some of the boys' teams to shame. And, best of all for me, and no matter how little attention The Washington Post pays to it, I am betting that my UConn women's basketball team is going to go all the way this year again.

[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at The Catholic University of America's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

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May 19-June 1, 2017

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