Both the men’s and women’s NCAA college basketball tournaments concluded this week. They were a celebration of everything we love about college athletics—entertainment through unpaid labor, gambling on schools you couldn’t find on a map, and cursing teenagers that have blown up your bracket.
This was March (and April, I guess).
In what has become a yearly tradition like no other, people spent the past month arguing about which tournament is better. On one side, there’s ESPN’s Darren Rovell offering insightful commentary like “this is bad for women’s basketball” and on the other side, there’s… well, it doesn’t matter. A good rule of thumb is never find yourself on the same side as Darren Rovell, no matter the topic.
Luckily for you, I am here to break down both tournaments objectively to determine which tournament was better. Let’s look at each tournament’s highlights, lowlights, and everything in between to see if the men or women will have bragging rights.
BEST 1 VS. 16 STORY
Men: No. 16 University of Maryland-Baltimore County not only defeated top-seeded Virginia, the Retrievers destroyed the Cavaliers 74-54
We waited decades for a No. 16 to upset a No. 1 on the men’s side and somehow this felt anticlimactic. It was over with about 10 minutes to go, which took the air out of a historic night. And if a No. 1 was to lose in the first round, wasn’t it always destined to be Virginia, a team that always seems to be ranked high despite it feeling like an accomplishment when it breaks 70 points? It’s like when Sean Bean turns out to be the bad guy in a movie. You’re like, “Ohhhh, right, I should have seen that coming.”
Women: No. 1 UConn obliterates No. 16 St. Francis (Pa.) 140-52, the second-biggest blowout in women’s tournament history
Here’s where the wet-headed press release rewriter comes in. Rovell took a screenshot of the final score and wondered if this was bad for the women’s game. You sort of understand his point—if UConn is just rolling teams until the Final Four, what’s the point of watching? While you get from where that thought originates, you would realize it’s also a stupid point if you give it just an extra five seconds to roll around your brand-addled brain.
You know why UConn smashing a school to smithereens is good? For the same reason Golden State demolishing teams on the way to 70-plus win seasons is good: it gets people talking and thinking about your game. I’d say it’s more likely people will watch if they know a bringer of destruction is playing a sport; golf was never more popular than when Tiger Woods was destroying the field every weekend. If UConn beats St. Francis by 20 or 30, nobody cares. Any college basketball team dropping 140 points is great for college basketball, because holy shit, they scored 140 points!
Another way you know this is a bad argument is if a men’s team won by the same score, nobody would wonder if it was bad for men’s college basketball. If Kansas beats Holy Cross 155-60, nobody is writing think pieces about how it’s bad for the men’s game.
ADVANTAGE: Men’s basketball
While beating a team by 88 points is great, Baylor beat Texas Southern by 89 points last year (and women’s college basketball somehow survived) so it’s not like UConn broke new ground. A 16 beating a 1 for the first time on the men’s side is historic and it’s fun as hell that it happened to an ACC team we all dislike (it should have been you, Duke).
BEST CHAMPIONSHIP GAME START TIME
Men: 9:20 PM ET
Fuck off, man.
Women: 6:07 PM ET
God bless you.
ADVANTAGE: Women’s basketball
All Stanley Cup Final games start at 8 PM ET, which is the perfect compromise between coasts. If you genuinely care about hockey, you will find your way in front of a TV by puck drop on the left coast. It’s bad enough people in the Pacific time zone have better start times for NFL Sundays and superior weather year-round, but you’re going to make us East Coasters wait until 9 m-effing 20 to watch the men’s final? Eat shit, California!
Arike Ogunbowale hit her buzzer-beater at about 8:10 PM. ET, right around the time Bill Raftery was waking up from his pregame nap Monday. Sports always want to “grow the game” and I’d say starting a game when a good chunk of the country’s children are asleep does not help. Let’s stop kowtowing to California! Begin games at 8 PM!
BEST CINDERELLA STORY
Men: No. 11 Loyola-Chicago reached the Final Four and gave Michigan a game before succumbing in the second half
Did anyone write anything about this team? There was an old lady in a wheelchair, too, I think. I never caught her name but she loved the team.
Women: No. 11 seeds Buffalo and Central Michigan reached the Sweet 16 before losing to higher-seeded teams
The Final Four was all 1 seeds and the lowest-seeded team in the Elite Eight was No. 6 Oregon State.
ADVANTAGE: Men’s basketball
You’re not beating an 11 seed reaching the Final Four. I was as sick of Sister Jean as the next person pretending they weren’t sick of three weeks of Sister Jean but you’re not going to top that story for a long time.
Men: Two 20-minute halves
I never realized how garbage this format was until I watched the women’s games (the NIT also uses the four-quarter format). A TV timeout every four minutes sucks and sometimes you need to see a better option to understand how the option you’ve always seen sucks. So, now I know: this format sucks.
Women: Four ten-minute quarters
The men’s game has media timeouts at under 16, 12, eight, and four minutes; the women go to the commercial with under five minutes to go each quarter and at the end of the first and third quarters, so you get fewer stoppages. Again, stop and think about how crazy it is that men’s college basketball stops every four minutes, and that’s without either team calling a timeout.
The women went to this format in 2015, and I say this as someone that doesn’t watch much women’s college basketball, that extra minute and one fewer break makes a world of difference.
ADVANTAGE: Women’s basketball
I feel like I already explained myself above. I don't care about the difference in how fouls are treated—it’s a one-and-one when a team hits seven fouls and two shots at ten fouls in the men’s game while the women’s game has teams shoot two shots once there are five fouls in a quarter—but the switch to four quarters was designed to improve game flow. It does.
BEST CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Men: I fell asleep at halftime but I think Villanova beat Michigan
Once the Italian guy started hitting 30-foot threes late in the first half, you knew this was over. This was like when Gerry McNamara hit all those three in the first half for Syracuse in the 2003 championship game against Kansas, only Kansas actually closed the gap in the second half.
Women: Arike Ogunbowale hit a last-second, fade away three-pointer to lift Notre Dame over Mississippi State, two days after she hit a last-second shot in overtime to knock out UConn
Not only did the game end before most cities’ streetlights warmed up, it ended in insanely great fashion. I must’ve missed the Rovell tweet that wondered if these endings were good for women’s college basketball (for real though, I may have missed them because Rovell has me blocked, but I’ll assume he ignored it and tweeted some shit about Marlins Man’s brand value).
ADVANTAGE: Women’s basketball
It’s not even close.
There is nothing wrong with liking or not liking a sport. But if you don’t like a sport, you don’t have to be a dick about it. Or, better yet, if you don’t like a sport, that’s fine, but it doesn’t have to always be a comparison. I hate soccer and will make jokes about soccer but I don’t need to proclaim that another sport is better than soccer whenever someone mentions soccer. I will instead make fun of Americans that set an alarm on a weekend for the purpose of waking up at sunrise to watch Figgy Pudding United tussle with Bangers And Mash FC because you decided a year ago to be a Figgy Pudding supporter.
There are cool aspects to the men’s game that don’t exist in the women’s game and vice versa, much the way there are cool aspects that exist in one sport and not in other sports. Not everything must be a pissing a contest or a comparison. Yeah, men will give you more dunks but they will also give you more brick-ass jumpers.
Enjoying both is allowed! Enjoying both to different degrees is allowed! And if you're still beating the "Women's sports are boring" drum after watching Notre Dame's Final Four run, and the relative snoozefest that was Villanova's Final Four run, you are 100 percent full of shit. Open your mind to the possibility of other sports being good and you will have more fun as a fan. Consider it next March.