Despite No. 1 falling, can't say parity has arrived in women's basketball

 
 
Updated 2/1/2019 1:21 PM
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  • Stephanie Watts, Paris Kea, Janelle Bailey and Leah Church celebrate North Carolina's 78-73 upset of then No. 1 Notre Dame last Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C.

    Stephanie Watts, Paris Kea, Janelle Bailey and Leah Church celebrate North Carolina's 78-73 upset of then No. 1 Notre Dame last Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C. Associated Press

It happens.

Every once in a while.

Like snow in Florida. Or a 100-year flood. Or the Cubs winning the World Series.

But while upsets in women's college basketball happen, the big ones are rare, and few and far in between.

Parity is "kind of" happening in women's college basketball, but it's not true parity, not the kind that true fans really want. Not the kind of parity where upsets are regular and the middle teams are essentially just as good as the top teams on any given day.

The giants are still the giants and the gap hasn't shrunk that much, even as women's basketball has grown and improved.

That's why Notre Dame's loss to North Carolina last week was such a headliner.

The Irish, ranked No. 1 in the country at the time, got whacked 78-73 at North Carolina, which was unranked.

It was just the fourth time in the last 20 seasons the No. 1 team lost to an unranked opponent.

The other top-ranked teams to go down to an unranked team were Baylor at Texas Tech in 2010-11, Tennessee at Kentucky in 2005-06 and Connecticut at Villanova in 2003-04.

Notre Dame's loss snapped a 198-game winning streak by the No. 1 women's college basketball team to an unranked opponent.

Parity, schmarity.

I remember in 1998 when Harvard pulled off the seemingly impossible.

That year in the NCAA women's tournament, Harvard was the No. 16 seed and was matched up with No. 1 Stanford in the first round.

It was a formality game for the Cardinal. Until it wasn't.

Somehow, some way, Harvard pulled the mother of all upsets and cut off Stanford's hopes for a long tournament run right at the knees.

It was the very first time in the history of the NCAA tournament, on either the women's side or the men's side, that a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed.

Women's basketball fans everywhere thought women's basketball had finally arrived. That the game was changing right before their eyes. That the NCAA tournament wasn't necessarily going to be a foregone conclusion anymore. That you couldn't fill in your brackets with a Sharpie anymore because you just knew that certain teams were a sure thing.

Well, we've all pumped the brakes since then. The powerhouses are still the powerhouses: Connecticut. Notre Dame. Baylor.

The biggest difference is there are more schools pushing their way onto that top rung.

South Carolina, Mississippi State, Stanford, Louisville.

Louisville, for instance, has been a national heavyweight the last 10 years but has gotten only a few program-altering wins, including a 2013 NCAA tournament upset of Baylor and Thursday's huge win over Connecticut.

Yep, Connecticut went down again. (UConn lost to Baylor earlier this season.)

It was the first time in 26 years Louisville had beaten Connecticut, ending a 17-game losing steak to the Huskies.

So, as the gap between the top-of-the-heap teams might be shrinking a little more each season, the gap between the upper- and middle-class of women's basketball, so to speak, seems to be holding steady.

Unfortunately, North Carolina's win over Notre Dame last weekend will be more like Harvard's win over Stanford 20 years ago, rather than some kind of exciting new trend.

Super Sunday prelude: Don't forget to get some hardwood in before you flip over to the gridiron Sunday.

A great way to kick off Super Bowl Sunday (and be home for pregame coverage) is go to DePaul's McGrath-Phillips Arena at 1 p.m. to watch two of the best women's basketball teams in the Midwest face off in a Big East Conference rivalry game.

No. 10 Marquette (18-3, 9-0 Big East) looks to stay undefeated in the Big East against DePaul (15-6, 6-3), which is always one of the country's most exciting teams.

I will be calling the game on NBC Sports Chicago with Dave Bernhard. The game will also be broadcast on the Big East Digital Network. Visit FoxSportsGo for access.

For tickets go to depaulbluedemons.com or call (773) 325-SLAM.

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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