The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, November 20, 2019

The death Of UConn? Nah — Interview with Cornell's Sam Widmann — Must-click women's basketball links

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The Mark Twain of teams

I suspect when we look back at the history of Geno Auriemma-era Connecticut, the 2019-20 team will appear to be an era unto itself.

The Breanna Stewart era ended in 2016, but the players from that team continued onward, with Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier leading the charge through last season’s Final Four. (Seriously, the amount of pro talent on that 2016 team, at some point I’m going to need to hear why that wasn’t the best team in collegiate history. But I digress.)

Come next season, we’ll be discussing a monster 2020 recruiting class for UConn — no, not the only team with a tremendous haul, as Oregon and Kelly Graves could tell you, but the only one with Paige Bueckers. It is unfair, the level of expectation I have for Bueckers at the next level, based on what I’ve seen, heard and been told. And yet: I think we’re going to be looking at the start of another defining player in UConn history.

All of which brings us back to 2019-20, a group that doesn’t necessarily boast an obvious future WNBA star. I am high on Crystal Dangerfield, I think her range helps compensate for her limits in height, but we’ll need to see her become an elite playmaker to make the jump to WNBA starter. Early returns suggest that Auriemma is going to have a six-person rotation, and that leaves no margin for error, just as with last year’s team, without Samuelson or Collier to rescue them in tight moments.

Still: no program sees progress in their individual players more frequently than UConn. Watching Olivia Nelson-Ododa, it is hard not to compare her multi-faceted game with the relatively stiff freshman who played sparingly at the start of last season. Megan Walker and Christyn Williams continue to grow, and Anna Makurat is precisely the combination of bigger body and polished secondary distributor that every great team needs as we approach the new decade.

Even so, many are ready to declare the death of UConn. After all, it’s been three years since Breanna Stewart.

Somehow, the past three years in Connecticut are viewed in some circles as failures, as if trips to the Final Four exist below the floor of reasonable outcomes in Storrs, instead of remarkable accomplishments in and of themselves. But what’s also forgotten is how close UConn came to winning all of their national semifinal games. National championships were truly within reach.

And so it is once again. Early on, there appear to be at least ten elite teams, depending on how much you buy Mississippi State (I do, though I’ll be a full believer after I see them against West Virginia on December 8 and USF on December 19). UConn, it is clear, is one of them.

If forced to choose a favorite, my money would be on Oregon. But a reason I cover women’s basketball, rather than gamble on it, is so I don’t have to do things like bet against Geno Auriemma and Chris Dailey finding a national champion out of their group — even if history is likely to forget them, merely by virtue of the seasons around this team.

This week in women’s basketball

Cheryl Reeve talks USWNT.

Dorothy Gentry checks in as well on the team.

Gentry also does vital work on the state of the Wings-Skylar Diggins-Smith partnership.

HerHoopStats has a must-subscribe podcast.

PJ Brown on Bryce Nixon. Also on Sam Thomas’ famous grandpa!

Sabreena Merchant on Cappie Pondexter.

Diana Taurasi still loves Argentina.

Outsports spoke to GW assistant Kevin DeMille.

Long-form doc on Paige Bueckers? Thank you, SLAM!

More attention for Kayla Alexander’s great new kids book.

Fatou Diagne of Purdue has quite the story to tell.

Lisa Willis deep dive!

Tweet of the week

Five at The IX: Sam Widmann, Cornell

I spoke to Sam Widmann, Jersey product and senior engine for Cornell, by phone last week. Listen here.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Stephanie Livaudais, @Livaudais
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala,@ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

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