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This UConn Team Was Better Than Last Year’s Team

It’s getting harder every day, the search for unused superlatives to heap upon the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. On Tuesday night, the Huskies captured their fourth consecutive NCAA championship with an 82-51 rout of Syracuse. The victory made star forward Breanna Stewart four-for-four on titles during her four years in Storrs and capped off a run the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the college game since John Wooden’s UCLA squad won seven straight men’s championships in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

UConn is all about rings — coach Geno Auriemma now has a record 11 of them, after all — but a championship can only really signify supremacy over the competition within a given season. When a team dominates as thoroughly as these Huskies have (they won their NCAA Tournament games by an average of 39.8 points per game), history becomes the only opponent. And even against that standard, UConn keeps raising the bar.

Gathering stats on women’s sports — even a popular one like basketball — is a notoriously (and shamefully) frustrating endeavor, but we can try to quantify a team’s dominance using historical data from Kenneth Massey and Sonny Moore, a couple of the power-rating makers featured in our women’s tournament prediction model. (Massey’s data goes back to 1997-98, while Moore’s picks up in 2004-05; the other two rating systems from the model do not provide historical archives.)


The Hot Takedown crew dissects UConn’s fourth straight championship.

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And to the extent we’re able to measure things,1 the 2015-16 Huskies were the best team of the modern era of women’s college basketball … supplanting the 2014-15 Huskies … who supplanted the 2013-14 Huskies. Each of Stewart’s final three years saw new ground broken in the area of women’s basketball greatness.

POWER RATING
YEAR TEAM WINS LOSSES MASSEY MOORE AVERAGE
1 2016 Connecticut 38 0 +54.7 +52.9 +53.8
2 2015 Connecticut 38 1 +51.2 +52.5 +51.8
3 2014 Connecticut 40 0 +56.3 +46.3 +51.3
4 2010 Connecticut 39 0 +52.2 +49.0 +50.6
5 2002 Connecticut 39 0 +49.8 +49.8
6 2013 Connecticut 35 4 +47.4 +49.0 +48.2
7 2009 Connecticut 39 0 +49.9 +45.3 +47.6
8 2000 Connecticut 36 1 +47.4 +47.4
9 2012 Baylor 40 0 +48.6 +43.6 +46.1
10 2014 Notre Dame 37 1 +44.0 +42.6 +43.3
11 2013 Baylor 34 2 +43.0 +41.5 +42.3
12 1998 Tennessee 39 0 +41.4 +41.4
13 2011 Connecticut 36 2 +41.5 +41.3 +41.4
14 2012 Connecticut 33 5 +40.5 +42.1 +41.3
15 2012 Notre Dame 35 4 +41.2 +40.6 +40.9
16 2008 Connecticut 36 2 +40.5 +39.6 +40.1
17 2013 Notre Dame 35 2 +40.2 +38.3 +39.2
18 2006 Duke 32 4 +40.1 +38.2 +39.1
19 2001 Connecticut 32 3 +38.7 +38.7
20 2011 Stanford 33 3 +38.7 +38.7 +38.7
21 2011 Texas A&M 33 5 +38.4 +38.9 +38.7
22 2010 Stanford 36 2 +39.6 +37.5 +38.5
23 2008 Tennessee 36 2 +39.9 +37.1 +38.5
24 2007 Tennessee 34 3 +40.7 +36.1 +38.4
25 1999 Tennessee 31 3 +37.9 +37.9
The greatest NCAA women’s teams since 1997-98

Source: Kenneth Massey, Sonny Moore

Admittedly, power ratings aren’t everything. For one thing, in the absence of player-level era adjustments like FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver’s Baseball Time Machine, they aren’t capable of accounting for changes in absolute quality of competition over time. But, if anything, the women’s game is evolving rapidly enough that UConn probably faced more talented opponents in Stewart’s senior season than it did when she was a freshman. And in the face of those changes, the Huskies adjusted even more quickly, upping the ante for how good a college team could be.

It’s anyone’s guess how much of this impossibly steep ascent UConn can maintain after the likes of Stewart and Morgan Tuck depart for the WNBA next season. But for now, let’s take a moment to appreciate what the Huskies accomplished these past few years: a run of dominance so impressive that even future incarnations of UConn will have trouble topping it.

Footnotes

  1. In this case, I set Massey’s and Moore’s ratings on the same scale and averaged them for years in which both numbers are available; for seasons before that, I just used Massey’s rating.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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