In the entire SB Nation Universe, we are the only website devoted exclusively to women's basketball. Our mandate is the WNBA - the site motto is "For WNBA Fans" and the dropdown under WNBA lists that they have a site dedicated to the WNBA and to NCAA women's basketball fans - that's us.
However we do not write exclusively about those things. Sometimes, we've written about European basketball. I've written at least one article about high school basketball and really anything touching on the business of girls or women's basketball interests us. We occasionally (but rarely) write about the Division II, Division III and NAIA/JUCO schools that are their own universes of women's basketball - I'm sure their triumphs and tragedies are written about elsewhere but rarely here.
Which provokes a question: were we wrong in limiting the list to Division I women's basketball? Could there be a Division II or Division III program which is just as great as the Division I programs are?
(* * *)
One problem is that there is no way to compare Division I and Division II with each other directly. Division I and Division II teams will play each other during the year, but not often, usually in the very first games of the season.
The rule is that every team in the NCAA is allowed two exhibition games. A team gets to chose whether or not these games are open exhibition games or closed exhibitions, or one of each. (Divison I Manual, rules 184.108.40.206 (g)-(h).)
There's a difference. Open exhibitions are just that - they are open to the public and you sell tickets. These games can only be against Division II teams or lower (and can only be against four-year programs). The alternative is the closed exhibition. You play an actual Division I squad with actual Division I rules, but you are not allowed to promote your game in any way and can't sell tickets. (If there are no open exhibition games in your team's schedule, it could be that they're playing someone else - maybe even a big name team - but are just not telling you about it.)
You trade off the prospect of drumming up publicity and selling tickets and playing maybe an in-state team vs. the prospect of playing a team of your caliber off the books to get ready for the season. Each team approaches the issue in a different way.
What this means is that Division I vs. Division II data would be hard to get and if we could get it, it would be rather sparse. Even so, is there a Division II program that is in any way comparable to the top Division I programs?
What it was, was football
There is, however, a universe where a certain class of very competitive schools plays teams belonging to another class of schools which don't place as much emphasis on a sport.
That universe is football. And there are certain ranking and betting sites which will try to rank FBS (Division I) and FCS (formerly Division I-AA) teams on the same level. After all, if Georgia Tech is playing Presbyterian, you want to know what the accurate spreads should be, and as an FBS team plays fewer games overall its results against FCS teams might given some indication of a FCS team's strength.
Realtimerpi.com gives it a shot. Right now, the highest FBS ranked team is Old Domninion, at #72 among all FBS and all FCS teams combined. That puts Old Dominion ahead of Connecticut, Georgia Tech, and Kentucky.
This might seem a bit implausible, but one website states that the winning percentage of FCS teams vs. FBS teams was 8.6 percent. At times, it was as low as 2 percent and as high as 14 percent between 2002 and 2010.
Do non-Division I teams beat Division I schools in women's basketball?
Getting a list of every Division I vs. non-Division I matchup is almost impossible. The best hope you have of such a list is to go to wbbstate.com and look at the calendar of the previous season's games. I decided to look for games last year and see if I could find any case where a Division I women's basketball team lost to a lower division.
Surprisingly, this happened last year, and not only once. Non-Division I schools were playing Division I schools as late as February 14 of last season.
November 11 - North Greenville 75, South Carolina-Upstate 57. The biggest loss in 2011-12 by a Division I team to a non-Division I team by victory margin. It was a good year for North Greenville, who finished 20-9 and in third place in the Division II Conference Carolinas. South Carolina-Upstate must have been shaken up, as they lost their next five games and finished at 9-21 for the year.
November 12 - Metro State 64, Nebraska-Omaha 61. The Mavericks are still transitioning to the Summit League and played an odd mix of Division I and II teams. The winning Roadrunners finished 27-4 on the season and made it to the Elite Eight of the Division II tournament.
November 14 - LSU-Shreveport 63, Louisiana-Lafayette 50. The Ragin' Cajuns finished at 7-23 on the year. LSU-Shreveport plays only six sports in the NAIA but the Lady Pilots finished 25-8 and made it to the NAIA Division I National Tournament.
November 22 - Palm Beach Atlantic 59, Bethune-Cookman 56. Bethune-Cookman didn't do too bad, finishing 10-19 and 7-10 in the MEAC conference. The Sailfish, on the other hand, finished worse at 7-19. Division II Palm Beach were behind by double digits in the first half but closed to 31-30 at halftime and won in a photo finish, shooting 19-for-23 at the free throw line.
November 22 - Belhaven University 56, Troy 53. Troy's record was a horrible 2-26 and the home loss to Bellhaven was just one of an eight-game losing streak to start the season. Belhaven - an NAIA school that was only recently Belhaven College - had a much better season, finishing 26-7 and making it to the first round of the NAIA Division I National Tournament. A pair of free throws by Kiara Johnson with one second left sealed the deal.
November 25 - Loyola-Louisiana 84, Northwestern State 80. In a battle of Louisiana schools, the Lady Demons lost this round on the way to a 6-23 season. The Wolfpack - an NAIA Division I school - finshed 23-5 on the year and was another NAIA Division I Tournament participant.
December 19 - Indianapolis 50, Cincinnati 43. This was the only power conference team to lose a game to a team ranked from a lower division - one of the few blemishes on a 16-16 season where the Bearcats finished 6-10 in the Big East and went to the WNIT after four losing seasons.
It almost didn't happen, as a sudden opening appeared in the Bearcats schedule and they gave the Greyhounds a call to fill it. The Greyhounds made it to the Division II National Tournament with a 19-11 record.
January 2 - Elizabeth City State 62, Maryland-Eastern Shore 55. Elizabeth City State is an HBCU in North Carolina which plays in Division II. The Lady Hawks of UMES finished at 12-18 and 9-8 in the MEAC. Elizabeth City State's Lady Vikings finished at 13-14 on the year.
January 2 - Wingate 69, College of Charleston 60. The Cougars lost at home to Wingate in the middle of an eight game losing streak, and finished the season 7-23 with six of their wins coming in Southern Conference play. D-II Wingate - best known as the alma mater of Jesse Helms - closed the season at 24-8 and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of Division II.
January 19: Concordia (NE) 68, Nebraska-Omaha 60. Concordia is an NAIA Division II team, but what a team. They finished the season at 34-3 and made it all the way to the Final Four of the NAIA Division II National Tournament, ending the year with a #3 national ranking in NAIA Division II.
February 1: Indiana Northwest 78, Chicago State 77. Chicago State, barely a Division I school and playing in the Great West conference, lost a nail biter to Indiana Northwest. The Cougars finished the season at 6-24. Indiana Northwest - an NAIA Division II team - finished 19-11 but did not make the national tournament.
And last year wasn't a fluke. Just this Sunday, Kent State lost to Gannon 70-61 to put their name on the list of Division I teams that will lose to non-Division I squads during the 2012-13 season.
(* * *)
The other factors
What is attendance like at non-Division I schools? How does their attendance compare to other teams on this list?
The leader in Division II attendance last season was Northern State, a school in Aberdeeen, South Dakota. They are generally ranked in the Top 10 in Division II attendance, with an average of 2,681 per game. That would be #44 in attendance among all NCAA women's basketball schools, with better home attendance than North Carolina, or Rutgers, or West Virginia.
The leader in Divsion III attendance last season was Hope College, just a few miles from Lake Michigan. They've led Division III in attendance for the last four years, averaging 1,343 per home game. Memphis - future Big East participant - only averaged 1,335 per home game, and that was the best they've done over four years. Northwestern only gets 1,270. Mighty USC? 1,238.
Recruiting is one of the other factors, and it is there that the favorable comparisons to Division I fall off. Take the Parade All-Americans, as prestigious a group of future women's college basketball players as you can get. Out of all of the players named since 2008, only one of those has foregone playing at a Division I university - Khadijah Carter was named a Parade All-American for 2012 and signed with Jacksonville Junior College.
Part of the problem that non-DI schools have in getting noteworthy recruits - or good recruits of any type for that matter - is that if word even got out that a DII was talking to any athlete early in the recruiting season, all it would take is a smart parent or coach to let everyone know. If the DI schools had any inclination that the young woman in question could actually play basketball, some DI schools would swoop down with an offer. There are a lot of recruits - too many - who feel that the cachet that comes with playing for a DI squad can't be passed up, even though you might win fewer games in four years at DI for a bad DI school than you'd win in one season in a top-rank DII school.
D2 and D3 schools on future lists?
* There really is no way to compare DI and non-DI schools directly, since they play each other so infrequently.
* A good non-DI school can beat a bad DI school - it happened more than once in 2011-12. Unfortunately, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
* Attendance at top DII and DIII schools compares favorably with DI schools. In fact, in some cases it is better than that of power conference schools.
* Recruiting, however, is dominated by the DI schools. The last time any WNBA Draft Pick came from a non-DI school was Johannah Leedham (pictured) who was born in England and played at DII Franklin Pierce, where she was the all-time DII scorer with 3050 points. She was drafted in the third round by the Connecticut Sun in 2010 but has never played pro ball in the United Staes.
So will we see non-DI schools on this list? The big hump to cross over is the first point of the summary - the schools simply exist in different worlds of basketball. But who knows? Maybe someday the NCAA will offer something like the FA Cup in England, where all NCAA women's basketball schools regardless of Division play in a massive one-off tournament. Until then, this list will be limited by practicality to Division I schools.
(* * *)
#41: South Carolina: Head coach Dawn Staley gets Gamecocks to first 20-win season in nine years and sends them to the Sweet Sixteen - joined Women's Basketball HOF as player this summer. South Carolina loses top two scorers but a great recruiting class coming in led by PG Khadijah Sessions who averaged almost 30 ppg in her high school senior year.
#42: Florida: Gators knocked out in second round of SEC tournament but makes it to second round of NCAA. Gators will lose three starters but Jennifer George (12.8 ppg/8.8 rpg) enters senior year and waits for Oklahoma State 6-6 Vicky McIntyre, an Oklahoma State transfer who won't have to wait a year. Head coach Amanda Butler receives contract extension to 2017.
#43: Nebraska: Nebraska makes it to Top 20, but falls to Kansas in first round of NCAAs. Even so, almost stole a Big Ten Tourney title from Purdue in first Big Ten season, falling by four points. Will freshman PG Rachel Theriot be expected to produce right away? Team moves to new arena in 2013-14.
#44: USC: 18-12 season sees Jacki Gemelos and Briana Gilbreath both go in third round of WNBA Draft. However, Trojans get guard Jordan Adams, ranked #7 in country by Hoopgurlz as well as PG Brianna Barrett. USC has Duke, Texas A&M on schedule...and of course, Stanford.
#45: Syracuse: Fifth straight postseason, fourth straight WNIT appearance. Syracuse would like last year in Big East to finish with a bang. While Quentin Hillsman serves his second year as an assistant on the Netherlands U-18 team, he has the #6 Recruiting Class this year according to ESPN.
#46: Kansas State: The Wildcats lose five seniors including Jalana Childs (14.3 ppg) and two other starters in a season taking them to the second round of the NCAA. K-State building an impressive-looking new facility for basketball training to train future Manhattan recruits.
#47: Marist: Seventh straight tournament championships in the MAAC. Eight straight regular season championships. Nine straight 20+ win seasons. You can almost write out the MAAC's NCAA season invite before the season starts.
#48: Michigan: Kim Barnes Arico new head coach at Michigan after Kevin Borseth returns to Wisconsin-Green Bay. She wasted no time, already has Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams (both class of 13) in recruiting pipeline, KBA clearly intends to make Michigan a national power. Shannon Smith from UNC will transfer to Michigan.
#49: Temple: Owls final year in Atlantic 10; next year they fly off to Big East. Ninth straight 20 plus win season; no NCAA appearance but WNIT Sweet Sixteen. Four seniors graduate including two top scorers Shey Peddy and Kristen McCarthy who averaged 30.2 of team's 65.7 ppg last season. Tonya Cardoza looks for win #100 in Year Five.
#50: Auburn: Nell Fortner retires at Auburn after 13-17 season, Terri Williams-Flournoy comes to Auburn after making Georgetown a national power. Incoming 5-7 PG Chadarryl Clay recruited by Fortner. G Camille Glymph transfers to Michigan State.
#51: Arkansas: Head coach Tom Collen gets an extension to 2016 after a 24-9 record, made it to the second round of NCAAs and voted SEC Coach of the Year. F Jessica Jackson was offered a scholarship as a HS freshman, accepted in 2012 and will make it to team next year. However, Razorbacks lose C'eira Ricketts to graduation.
#52: Marquette: Terri Mitchell gets her 300th win in a disappointing 14-17 season. Tyler Summitt - Pat Summitt's son - gets his first assistant coaching job with Marquette. As guards coach, he might not get to work with recruit Ashley Santos right away - due to an ACL tear she suffered in January she might not be ready yet.
#53: Xavier: Amy Waugh's first season as a head coach ended with a frightening 8-20 record after being left with an empty cupboard among other catastrophes including the indefinite suspension of Lynette Holmes in January. Freshmen listed on roster might get a lot of playing time but Ce'Dra Evans diagnosed with diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and not cleared to play.
#54: Princeton: Hold that Tiger! Princeton wins third straight Ivy League title - four points away from making it to second round. Before the loss to K-State they won 17 straight. Wing player Vanessa Smith will come to Princeton in 2013.
#55: Arizona State: Disappointing year ends with Sun Devils losing to Pacific in first round of WNIT. Charli Turner Thorne returns from nine-month absence. OVC Freshman of the Year G Katie Hempen will be ready for 2013-14 season after transferring to ASU.
#56: Fresno State: Fresno State is now officially a member of the Mountain West. Reagan Pebley takes over from Utah State, Adrian Wiggins departed for (brief) stay at Mississippi. Four starters back including Ki-Ki Moore (16.8 ppg/7.2 rpg).
#57: Kansas: Junior Angel Goodrich took the Jayhawks to their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1998 and knocked Delaware and Elena Delle Donne out of the tournament. Lose only one senior, Carolyn Davis finishing up ACL rehab on left knee.
#58: Bowling Green: Falcons lose head coach Curt Miller to Indiana. Assistant coach Jennifer Roos steps into a team that has won 20+ games for nine straight seasons. Two other Falcon assistants, however, join Miller in Indiana.
#59: Texas Christian: Big Twelve is so tough that Horned Frogs - an excellent team - will probably be the conference doormat. Jada Butts will be joining TCU a year from now, but program with nine NCAA tournaments in last 12 years might find it hard to keep that alive in the Big Twelve.
#60: Delaware: Last year for Elena Delle Donne at Delaware, but where do Blue Hens go after she goes pro? EDD isn't the only starter they're going to lose to graduation, so this might be as good as it gets.
#61: St. Bonaventure: Bonnies get their first 30-win season and an NCAA visit after three WNIT appearances, go to the Sweet Sixteen. St. Bonaventure is second smallest school (by enrollment) to ever go to the Sweet Sixteen but while Jim Crowley gains an extension to 2017 he loses four seniors and recruiting coach.
#62: Mississippi State: Sharon Fanning-Otis retires at Mississippi State after 17 seasons (281-232), Vic Schaefer comes to the Lady Bulldogs from Texas A&M. 6-4 post Dominique Brooks signed under previous staff. Only one senior left on squad, leading scorers Diamber Johnson and Porsha Porter graduate.
#63: Illinois State: Redbirds go to WNIT, sixth straight postseason but streak of five 20 game win seasons comes to an end. Last senior class won 98 games over four seasons, leading scorer Katie Broadway graduates.
#64: Wake Forest: After winning 20 games for the second time in school history, Mike Petersen - the winningest coach in Wake Forest history - resigns after North Texas offers him a job. New head coach Jen Hoover only had one season as head coach at High Point, but the Demon Deacon alum won Rookie Coach of the Year in 2012 which was convincing enough.
#65: South Dakota State: Good year for the Jackrabbits - won regular season and tournament titles, NCAA appearance. However, Aaron Johnston loses two assistants to head coaching jobs elsewhere. Still, SDSU will be shooting for their fifth straight conference tournament championship/NCAA appearance this season.
#66: Brigham Young: Cougars nationally ranked for the first time since 2006. PG Haley Steed playing at BYU for six years now, lost three seasons to knee injuries. Steed was third in A/TO ratio in the country last year, and was fourth in assists per game. (168 assists, 64 turnovers.)
#67: Wisconsin: Disappointing 9-20 season for the Badgers and a tough start for first-year coach Bobbie Kelsey. Kelsey's reputation is as a recruiter, six new Badgers signed in the off-season. Facilities at Kohl Center getting a facelift including women's locker room. Kelsey contract extended to 2017.
#68: South Florida: Bulls have to wait a year for PG Tremaine McCullough to graduate from high school. Sun Dome completes renovation, women's BB team can move back in and leave the shoebox of the USF Recreation Center (seating - approximately 1000).
#69: Colorado: Colorado breaks the 20-win mark for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Linda Lappe loses assistant coach Kelly Rae Finley to Drake, new recruiting coordinator comes in. New class of Buffs is high-ranked recruiting class; CU loses just one player to graduation.
#70: Arkansas-Little Rock: Third straight NCAA appearance after a 3-8 start to the season, sixth straight 20-win season by head coach Joe Foley. Keep an eye on sophomore guard Taylor Gault, led team last season in points (16.0 ppg) and steals; only freshman on First Team of Sun Belt and Sun Belt Freshman of the Year.