How Philly became a Maddy Siegrist town — Dan Hughes talks NCAA Tournament — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Mar. 22, 2023

VILLANOVA, Pa. — As we consider the way Maddy Siegrist of Villanova has taken Philadelphia by storm — as a legitimate public phenomenon, not that muted, afterthought way so many women’s sports icons are covered — it is worth remembering the commonalities between this moment and what we’ve seen from other women’s sports breakthroughs of the past.

Take UConn women’s basketball for example: Mel Greenberg often tells the story of how it took an NHL strike, and a collection of Hartford Whalers beat reporters left with nothing to write about save the young Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo with the endlessly quotable coach, Geno Auriemma, to turn the Huskies into a coverage juggernaut that’s endured for 30 years.

Ask our subscriber, the exceptional soccer writer Jonathan Tannenwald, about the ways Fox Sports promoted the 2015 Women’s World Cup not as its own event, but as a trial run for the men’s World Cup three years later. A funny thing happened, though: doing that produced such massive ratings that the WWC, and the U.S. team that won it, were catapulted into a level of coverage we’ve come to expect since.

Yes, if you’re keeping score at home, that means the most-covered women’s basketball and soccer teams in this country got there by accident. (Here’s how to change that, by the way.)

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Accordingly, I keep thinking about the fact that Siegrist’s Villanova Wildcats aren’t simply endlessly watchable in their own right — there were, after all, plenty of Harry Perretta teams that brought the fun — but that this run is taking place at the moment all the City 6 men’s teams (that’s the Big 5 plus Drexel if you aren’t versed in Philly-speak) missed the NCAA Tournament.

We had the great SID Mike Sheridan at the podium handling press conferences, because Jay Wright’s out announcing now, rather than winning titles with the men’s team. We had the luxury, from the Inquirer, of both the legendary veteran Mike Jensen and the phenom Meghann Morhardt, whereas a men’s team reaching the tournament would have meant splitting up that work. Massive credit to the Inquirer — they were in on Siegrist early. But we’ve seen the city as a whole follow suit.

That there is a basketball-crazy small person in my house who cannot stop talking about Maddy Siegrist shouldn’t be surprising. This is, after all, a women’s basketball house, and Siegrist is thus on the television regularly, taking those shots whose form Denise Dillon compared to that of Larry Bird after Villanova’s first-round win on Saturday.

But the folks I grew up with — broadly approving of my women’s basketball work, but simply not hearing much about it across mass media — they all know who Maddy Siegrist is. The sellout crowd at Finneran Pavilion, overstuffed with people of all ages wearing navy blue and white jerseys and shirseys emblazoned with “Siegrist 20” on them — sure know who Maddy Siegrist is.

It cannot have escaped the decision-makers of the WNBA — or at least it shouldn’t — how Finneran looked and sounded as the concept of a Philly WNBA team remains very much a live concern. A 6,500-seat arena is a little small for the purposes of WNBA economics (much as it dwarfs where the Mystics play, to be fair), but an investor with the right level of imagination could put a team there while following the lead of the Kansas City Current in the NWSL and building a WNBA-specific arena.

I wondered how it all felt to Siegrist herself, to go from so overlooked she didn’t even crack the Hoopgurlz top 100 freshmen to a player who will be selected in the WNBA Draft before the first five picks are complete. So I asked her.

I’ll let Siegrist answer directly in this video:

She gets it. She’s embracing the opportunity. Oh, and the top seed in her team’s regional, Indiana, just got knocked out in the Round of 32. Sometimes, everything falls into place. And when it does, in women’s sports, the impact is a whole lot more than one little girl who, I can tell you from the car ride home, could not stop talking about her.

She’s not the only one.

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This week in women’s basketball

RIP Detroit Shock.

Coach Yo began coaching at age 10? Now it all makes sense.

Terrific piece on Maddy Siegrist.

My latest at FiveThirtyEight, on what the projection system thinks about the first weekend.

PJ Brown’s Arizona obit.

Bailey Johnson captures Jacy Sheldon’s moment.

Alex Simon goes in-depth on Haley Jones’ legacy.

Make sure you pre-order Katie Barnes’ book.

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Five at The IX: Dan Hughes

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By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.