With Matthew Knight Arena fully broken in and veteran coach Paul Westhead entering his third year in women's college basketball, the Oregon Ducks athletic department has shown the desire and money to go big. Photo by Swish Appeal.
Welcome back to the Top 100 Programs in Division I Women's Basketball - 2011 Edition!
Last year, Swish Appeal released a five-part series on what we considered to be the best programs in women's college basketball. The series was so popular that an encore was demanded, and let's just say we aim to please. (You can look at the final Top 10 from last year here.)
Now that the WNBA season is over, it's time to start thinking about women's college basketball in earnest.
We'll release the list in chewable bite-sized morsels using the following schedule:
Today: Teams 71-100
Tuesday, October 18: Teams 41-70
Wednesday, October 19: Teams 26-40
Thursday, October 20: Teams 11-25
Friday, October 21: Teams 1-10
Last year's list was not only the springboard for a lot of discussions, but for a lot of questions as well. What did the list *mean*? Was it a preseason Top 100 list? Were these the best programs of *all-time* or just some recent time? And what exactly is meant by best program?
These questions forced me to put a great deal of thought in putting together this list. The metrics that were used to construct the list have been expanded, and the basis on which programs are judged has been changed (and it will probably be changed every year we do this.) This is very important to remember when you notice that a team might have jumped (or dropped) twenty places from their 2010 rankings.
What was interesting to me was how the rankings changed from last year. The teams that we think of as super-elite programs barely budged at all. Teams in the lower part of the rankings had the most volatility. This implies that there are some teams that are going to do well no matter what kind of metric you use, and there are other teams whose rankings will definitely be dependent on which metric is being used and what weight is being placed on that metric.
So let's answer the above questions:
- Click here for an overview of how these rankings were determined.
- This is not a preseason Top 100 list. It is not meant to be used to predict the 2011-12 season match-ups.
- It is not an "all time" list. The fact that the list is limited to Division I should be a giveaway, else we'd have Immaculata and Delta State on the list. Rather, it is meant to measure quality over a "relevant" period of time. A championship earned last year should be a lot more relevant than one earned a decade ago.
- And finally the big question....
What is meant by best program?
You can find several lists on the internet of the best programs in men's college basketball. So what is a good men's college program? They'll tell you. Here's a definition from NBC Sports:
It’s easy to spot the best men’s college basketball programs. They have the most wins, NCAA Tournament victories and titles, have thrived recently and send more players to the NBA than any other schools.
Likewise, this list of the best programs from ESPN seems to focus entirely on NCAA Tournament wins and how many players were sent to the NBA.
Note what isn't listed in any of these lists. Nothing is said about the student experience at these universities. Nothing is said about the life lessons imparted to the players by wise coaches. Nothing is written about friendships formed, or classes where students were intellectually or spiritually enriched. There is nothing about the strengths of the various alumni associations, or networking, or facilities, or internships. Rather, the lists appear to be written by disciples of the late Al Davis: "Just win, baby!"
The strength of women's basketball is in the fact that since women's basketball is a new frontier, we don't have to repeat the mistakes made in the men's game. (We can make our own heretofore undiscovered mistakes, glistening, gleaming mistakes for a new generation!) There is nothing that says that we have to judge a program solely on the strength of winning ball games, and we can talk about the other aspects of women's basketball without fear of being gainsaid by those of the "realist" camp who link everything to the score of last night's match-up.
Even so, the importance of winning cannot be understated, even in women's basketball. Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma didn't earn those salaries by giving their players something to do and teaching good sportsmanship. Like the men's game, more and more women's coaches that don't win games find themselves on the outs very quickly. The women's game has become more competitive every year, and there's much more of a "what have you done for me lately?" aspect to decision making when it comes to extending a coaches territory (cases in point: Wendy Larry, Debbie Ryan).
Success beyond winning
In some aspects, the focus on winning is a good thing. It used to be that success from ten or twenty years ago earned you tenure for life in women's basketball, with some coaches hanging on to their jobs for decades even in the power conferences (I suspect this was because the athletic departments didn't care much what went on in the women's basketball programs, and the athletic directors must have concluded that as long as the Title IXers were mollified and everyone was getting some exercise there was no need to be concerned). These days, however, more and more programs aren't satisfied with just being adequate, they wish to be exemplary.
Furthermore, the players take their game more seriously. They put more hours into the game. Coaching has advanced. The athletic training is better. Players want to take their skills to a place where they can earn a championship, and seek out schools that win. Winning can be used as a selling point in the recruiting of those players. As head coach Tara VanDerveer of Stanford told her players during tough practices, "Do you want to have fun? Try winning. That's fun!"
A new selling point is that for the first time in women's basketball history there's a legitimate chance to make a living in the United States playing women's basketball. (Before 1996, the only alternative was to go to Europe, and WNBA players still supplement their income there during the off-season.) In order to be drafted into the WNBA, it helps to play on a winning team.
Winning teams get on television. Winning teams are seen. Winning teams bring prestige to the university, which brings money, which brings facility upgrades, which brings perks. Winning might not be "the only thing" like Vince Lombardi said, but I've never heard of a women's basketball program being called "great" when it wins in the single-digits every year. On the contrary, the first question becomes "what's wrong with that program?"
So let's go back to our Top 100 Programs. One might say, "Well, why don't we base the metric on wins only? Or championships only?" Because counting wins merely predicts the past. A program shouldn't merely be one that "won back then" (depending on how far back you go to get to "back then") but it should also be a program that has the potential to win in the future. It might not be a program that's winning very much now - but it might play in a great conference and have quality of competition as a selling point. Or it might be great at recruiting. Or it might win more games if it played in a weaker conference. In some way, we try to capture both of these aspects of a program and create a "potential for winning".
Winning games should not be the be-all and end-all of women's athletics. Second-generation feminists didn't want any part of women's sports if women's sports was going to be the mirror image of the corrupt men's sports game with XX chromosomes. But - surprise of surprises! - it turns out that women like winning just as much as men do.
71. Hartford: Tough opening schedule prepared coach Jen Rizotti's team well, seventh straight post-season for Hawks. Team lives and dies by the 3-pointer and prolific long-range G Mary Silvia graduates.
72. Chattanooga: Record of 11 straight post-season appearances ends with 17-14 year. Coach Wes Moore got his 500th career win and his 300th win at Chattanooga this season.
73. Toledo: Rockets rocket to place on list with 2011 WNIT Championship. Coach Tricia Cullop's contract extended to 2020. First MAC team ever to win a post-season title. Team averaging 3,000 fans per game, new foreign import is F Imna Zanoguera out of Spain.
74. Michigan: This year's visit to WNIT ended in first round with loss to Eastern Michigan. Crisler Arena facilities under renovation, and Wolverines sweep Ohio State for very first time.
75. Indiana State: Terry Morens's job in her second year will be to turn around the malaise that has sapped the Sycamores. The attendance is there but Indiana State is just waiting for a winning program. Top four scorers coming back next year; three will be seniors.
76. Missouri State: Two straight 20-win seasons for Lady Bears with two straight WNIT appearances. Not bad for four years under Nyla Milleson. Will be led by senior G Casey Garrison, on first-team Missouri Valley Conference roster for three straight years.
77. Utah: Elaine Elliot retires at Utah, Anthony Levrets takes over. The Utes pick up their last Mountain West Title with a season-ending run and finish one game above .500 with a loss in the NCAA first round, but 20+ win seasons will be hard to get in the Pac-12..
78. Charlotte: Coach Karen Aston takes team to Final Four of WNIT, then resigns for a job in North Texas that's closer to home. 49ers lose WNBA Draft Pick Shannon McCallum and three other seniors.
79: San Diego State: Disappointing season, but Beth Burns and Aztecs might make it back to Sweet Sixteen soon with Chairese Culberson, a top ten wing recruit according to Hoopgurlz. They have five freshmen and Chelsea Hopkins out of Duke coming to San Diego next year.
80. Liberty: Big South top team had won conference 13 of previous 14 years but lost to Gardner-Webb by one point, then lose to Charlotte in WNIT. Liberty gets their wins by hitting the boards, team ranked #2 nationally in rebound margin, ninth straight year in top five in Division I.
81. Miami (FL): #81 with a bullet - the 'Canes finished second in the ACC, they won 17 straight games, Katie Meier was named a co-coach of the year - and with G Riquna Williams and G Shenise Johnson. Miami will contend for an ACC title next year.
82. Indiana: Felicia Legette-Jack's legacy as a Hoosier: 19-14, 18-15, 21-11, 14-16...and 9-20. Indiana dropped 14 of its last 15 games, only win in that frame was over 9-23 Illinois. Jack's contract is safe (?) till 2013.
83. Arkansas: The Razorbacks made it into the polls this year, starting the season 12-0 and making the quarterfinals of the WNIT just after the worst season in almost 20 years. But the biggest news seems to be Coach Tom Collen's hiring of his (qualified) wife as an assistant coach.
84. South Florida: 2009 WNIT champs follow with two losing seasons, 12-19 this year. Roster shakeups and low APR penalties cost the USF two scholarships this season. Bulls home - the Sun Dome - will be refurbished during 2011-12.
85. Mississippi: Worst season in Ole Miss history could have been even worse: six of the Lady Rebels ten wins this year were by six points or less. Renee Ladner with a 58-65 record after four years in Oxford.
86. Southern Methodist: New renovations of Moody Coliseum will take the sting out of first losing season in eight years and end to three straight post-season appearances.
87. Delaware: Remain relevant as long as G/F Elena Delle Donne is relevant. Delle Donne on 2011-12 Wade Watch List. Last season, Blue Hens lost to eventual champ Toledo in WNIT.
88. Creighton: Make it six WNIT appearances in nine years for the Blue Jays. In the last nine seasons Creighton leads the Missouri Valley Conference in conference wins.
89. Western Kentucky: 15-17 season must be a disappointment - only second time in nine years that coach Mary Taylor Cowles has missed 20 wins. Even so, they made it to the Sun Belt championship game.
90. Clemson: Itoro Coleman's inaugural year ended with a 10-20 finish. Nothing new at Clemson: no winning ACC record in ten years, no winning record overall in seven years. However, signees for 2012-13 season might pull this program out of the basement.
91. Virginia Commonwealth: F Courtney Hurt scored 23.2 points per game last season to lead Rams to WNIT, #2 in country in scoring and #1 in rebounding with 12.4 per game - she breaks CAA's record for double-doubles as a junior.
92. Brigham Young: Second straight 20-win season for Cougars. Undefeated at home this year in Provo. They lose G Mindy Bonham to graduation but BYU has plenty of players that like to move the ball.
93. St. Bonaventure: Patience is a virtue for the Bonnies - after several losing seasons, Jim Crowley has five straight winning seasons, three straight 20-win seasons and three straight WNIT appearances. That gives Crowley an extension through 2017.
94: Tulane: Green Wave doesn't get to NCAA but still makes postseason and WNIT second round. Women's team opens up new 43,000 foot practice facility, "biggest impact on our program than any other factor in my 16 years" according to Coach Lisa Stockton.
95. Illinois: Jolette Law got Illinois all the way to the Big Ten Semifinals. But Illini finished 9-23, losing 12 straight to cap the regular season, setting a program record for consecutive losses.
96. Drake: Four post-season appearances for Drake in Amy Stephens's eight years there, including a 2007 season where Bulldogs were fifth team to make NCAA tournament with losing record. Need to break free from back-to-back .500 seasons.
97. Colorado: Took class of three seniors to quarterfinals of WNIT. Not bad for head coach Linda Lappe's first year with the Buffs. Lappe is youngest head coach of a major women's BB conference; replacement of WNBA draft pick Brittany Spears will be first real test.
98. Princeton: Tigers made second straight NCAA tournament appearance last year - which are their only tournament appearances. Princeton loses Ivy League Player of the Year G Addie Micir to graduation.
99. Oregon: PG Nia Jackson returns after knee injury. Oregon's athletic department has the money and the desire to go big, but 13-17 finish in Paul Westhead's second season must have been disappointing to Oregon boosters after 18-16 start.
100. East Carolina: Lady Pirates went to two NCAA tournaments and the WNIT over tenure of Sharon Baldwin-Tener (now at Georgia State), second year head coach Heather Macy's previous job was at DII powerhouse Francis Marion.