Welcome to the second edition of “The Triple Double”!
In this week’s edition, we’re going to focus primarily on the East Coast college teams, because that’s where all the intrigue has kinda been this month. And for good reason. We’ve got two potentially serious challengers to South Carolina’s throne, and two coaches whose accomplishments mean more than noted. At the end, we'll swing to the West Coast for a team that has officially passed their prime.
Let’s get down to business, shall we?
1) WHO IS THE TRUE NO. 2 TEAM?
The last three Associated Press (AP) polls have the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-1) as the number two team in the nation after a stunning collapse from the Texas Longhorns three weeks ago.
However, the No. 3 Louisville Cardinals have a valid reason to gripe about why they should occupy that slot, seeing how as of Christmas, they are 14-0, the best record in all of Division I.
But what does the tale of the tape say? Let’s break it down some.
If you’re looking at just the schedule, then Notre Dame has a slight edge over Louisville. To their credit, they have four wins over teams that are currently ranked, including a 92-85 victory over the defending champion South Carolina Gamecocks.
They also have played six games against teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last season. Compare that to Louisville’s schedule (three games against currently ranked opponents, five games against 2017 NCAA tournament teams), and sure, Notre Dame has the upper hand.
But if we look at the “Beat ‘Em Down” scale (I’ll explain), then it’s safe to say that Louisville has all the cards here.
“Beat ‘Em Down” scale: team’s overall points - opponent’s overall points/amount of wins
Louisville, in their 14 wins, has outscored opponents 1,162 to 77. This includes their 64-point embarrassment over Murray State (115-51) and their 54-point Tekken-style trouncing of Middle Tennessee (80-26), where they held MTSU to 13 POINTS in the first half. If you use the “Beat ‘Em Down” scale, Louisville is beating their opponents by 27.5 points per game, which is among the top 10 in the nation.
Notre Dame, while they have some pretty impressive wins, just don’t have that same amount of oomph. Using the same scale, the Fighting Irish have outscored their opponents by 18.1 points in their wins.
By comparison, the number one team in the nation, the Connecticut Huskies, have outscored opponents by 28.7 points in their eight wins. Most teams would kill to win by 20 points every game, but when you’re the no. 2 team in the nation, you’ve got to show no mercy.
Another area where Louisville has an edge is their competitive streak. Not to discredit Notre Dame at all, but when you are a top 3 team, and you are getting outscored in the second quarter and held to under double digit points in the third by an Ivy League school, you’re not getting the job done. No amount of winning can make up for lack of hustle. In comparison to Louisville, where even in close wins they are not letting their foot off the gas.
A perfect example of Notre Dame losing their fight was their December 3 loss to UConn. Going into the fourth quarter, the Fighting Irish had the Huskies backed into a corner and were primed to give the Huskies their first loss of the year.
Out of nowhere, Azura Stevens led a passionate comeback from an 11-point deficit to a nine-point victory. Notre Dame could have potentially been the top team in the nation right now, but poor showings in the later parts of games have been a problem so far.
We’re not here to tell you who the real no. 2 team is, but we’ll let you read this and decide for yourself.
2) TITANS OF THE COACHING GAME
The week before Christmas, we saw two very respected coaches, Connecticut's Geno Auriemma and North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell, reach the 1,000-win plateau.
With those wins, Hatchell and Auriemma became the fourth and fifth coaches to earn the distinction in either men's or women's college basketball. But the milestone isn't what makes them special. It's the impact they have left on the game of women's basketball in a time where they have been overshadowed by their counterparts.
Between the two of them, Auriemma gets the most praise because of his accolades. And they are deserved. In this century alone, he has had three streaks of 70-plus wins (70 - 2001 to 2003; 90 - 2008 to 2011; 111 - 2014 to 2017), is the only coach in women's basketball to win four straight national championships (has 11 overall) and has also won three Olympic gold medals.
However, Sylvia Hatchell's accomplishments are nothing to scoff at either. In a 44-year career spanning two schools (she coached at Francis Marion College for the first 12 years), Hatchell not only managed to keep her teams competitive (only seven losing seasons, and always with 10 wins or more), but fought cancer and still managed to come back to coaching without skipping a beat.
Their dominance in the game has never been at question: 30 conference championships, 27 regular season championships, and 12 NCAA championships between them. That success has also propelled them to a combined 49 players drafted in the WNBA, and many more who have gone on to play professionally overseas. All while maintaining a relatively scandal-free atmosphere.
These two coaches should be a lock for the Naismith Hall of Fame when their number is called. But to many of their peers, they are already in the Hall of Fame...of life.
3) THE CARDINAL FINALLY LANDS
Christmas Day was not so jolly for Tara VanDerveer and the Stanford Cardinal.
For the first time in 312 weeks, the Cardinal (6-6) are NOT in the AP Top 25 poll.
Let's allow that to sink in for a minute. The last time Stanford wasn't ranked, here is where we were in history:
George W. Bush, Jr. was the President of the United States. Michael Jordan came out of retirement to play for the Washington Wizards. And this writer was a fresh-faced 15-year-old freshman in high school.
Sure, Stanford hasn't won a national championship in this century, but they had been among the most consistent teams in women's basketball. During the streak, the Lady Cardinal have won 16 Pac-10/Pac-12 conference championships, including a run of 15 straight. Only one other team (Connecticut, 458) even has a longer streak of consecutive appearances in the poll.
And considering Stanford has played the toughest schedule in all of Division I thus far, their reign has been more impressive. With the loss, Stanford tied with Tennessee for the most consecutive weeks in the AP poll. There is hope that Stanford can turn it around; they were only three votes shy of continuing this streak and conference play starts this week.
Thank you for checking out this week’s edition of “The Triple Double”, and we’ll see you next week for volume three.