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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Why the star power of women’s March Madness is outshining the men’s tournament

Caitlin Clark’s superstar status is leading a historic pool of talent

<p>Iowa guard Caitlin Clark has become college basketball's most electric player. | Source images courtesy of John Mac, NCAA, Wikimedia Commons.</p>

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark has become college basketball's most electric player. | Source images courtesy of John Mac, NCAA, Wikimedia Commons.

If you didn’t watch Iowa vs LSU in the women’s Elite 8 on Monday night, you missed out on a piece of history. 

The hotly anticipated rematch, taking place a year after LSU dismantled Iowa in the women’s college basketball championship game, peaked at 12.6 million viewers. It drew an average of 9.9 million viewers and was the most-viewed college basketball game ever on ESPN. 

That makes sense to me: there were plenty of reasons to tune in. 

Iowa has relied on superstar senior guard Caitlin Clark and her incredible ability to knock down shots far beyond the three-point line en route to the Final Four. LSU, led by premier talents in junior forward Angel Reese and sophomore guard Flau’jae Johnson, added one of the best guards in the country through the transfer portal in senior Hailey Van Lith for their bid to repeat as national champions. 

The game went back and forth, but ultimately, Clark and the Hawkeyes came away victorious, as Clark went off for a ridiculous 41 points and 12 assists in the 94-87 win. 

Make no mistake: Caitlin Clark is a generational talent. She’s regularly pulled up from half-court this season and made shots from Stephen Curry range while running through the competition. She’s a one-woman wrecking ball and has become the poster child of the biggest star turn the women’s college game has ever seen. 

On the other sideline, LSU’s Reese is one of the most polished post players in the country, and her teammate Johnson has made strides across the board to become one of the most efficient guards in the game. Even Van Lith, just a season removed from carrying Louisville to the Elite Eight last season with some dominant scoring performances, deserves to be in that conversation.

Elsewhere in the bracket, UConn squared off against USC. After tearing her ACL last season, UConn’s star junior guard Paige Bueckers continued her redemption tour with 28 points and 10 rebounds in the 80-73 win. It ended an incredible season for USC's freshman guard JuJu Watkins, who was second in the country in scoring with 27.1 points per game this season, only behind Clark.  

If it isn’t clear already, this is easily the deepest pool of talent that the women’s college game has ever had. It’s provided some incredible games, with both of these matchups more exciting than the vast majority of the men’s tournament games this year. 

There will unfortunately still be people who look down on women’s basketball, but the attention the women’s game has brought this season is becoming hard to ignore. Those are just two matchups in what has been a star-powered women’s tournament to this point, and that’s without mentioning the undefeated 36-0 South Carolina. The Gamecocks, led by the 6 '7 phenom, senior forward Kamilla Cardoso, have looked unstoppable during their second straight undefeated regular season. 

This is not to say that the men’s tournament has been boring, because it hasn’t. But the women’s tournament is starting to tip the scale. While each of the final four teams on the men’s side are talented, none boast a bonafide number one that will light up the NBA next season. 

The complete opposite is true on the women’s side.

Clark has been the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in this year’s WNBA draft for some time now, and Cardoso and Reese should be a top-ten selection at worst. Johnson, Van Lith, Bueckers, and Watkins all have at least one more year of college remaining, but if they were in the WNBA draft, their names would be off the board just as quickly. 

That’s another flaw of the men’s tournament. People are beginning to realize that the women’s stars spend the full four seasons in college, making it easier for fans to root for their favorite players and teams when March rolls around. 

On the men’s side, staying four years is rare. It’s been some time since a bonafide superstar ready for the NBA decided to stay in college, leading to plenty of roster turnover in the men’s game. For that reason, it’s not uncommon for entire rosters to change and leave, something that’s become expedited by the introduction of the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) system.

Again, the men’s tournament hasn’t been boring, it’s just been…lackluster. However you look at it, the men’s tournament hasn’t lived up to the hype, and the women’s has soared over expectations. The women’s game has grown exponentially in national interest and profitability, and that should only continue to elevate with players like Clark, who are the unquestioned future faces of the game.  

Regardless of what happens on Friday in the women’s Final Four games, expect some fireworks. The Gamecocks will play North Carolina State to kick off the Final Four. The winner of that game awaits the winner of the UConn-Iowa matchup in what should be a star-studded championship game Sunday.

Who knows? Maybe the games break more records. 

Either way, I’ll be tuning in. You should too.

Henry Daley is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at henry.daley@ubspectrum.com 


HENRY DALEY
henry-daley.jpg

Henry Daley is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. His work has featured on other platforms such as Medium and Last Word on Sports. Outside of the newspaper, he enjoys running and watching sports (when he’s not writing about them). 

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