How to watch
When: Tuesday, March 23, 9 p.m. EST
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
TV: ESPN | Beth Mowens (pxp), Renee Montgomery (analyst), Holly Rowe (sideline)
Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)
Record: 15-8 (9-7 ACC)
Location: Syracuse, New York
Head coach: Quentin Hillsman (15th season)
This year’s NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — more so than any iterations in the past — have highlighted the deep inequity between the two events. Earlier this week, disparities between the weight rooms, player swag bags, and COVID-19 testing — to name a few — were revealed and now that the tournaments are officially underway, there’s a clear difference in branding as well.
On the men’s side, almost every single surface in view of the camera tells you that you’re watching the NCAA Tournament and/or March Madness. The courts at each venue are distinct with a unique color scheme while other design elements make it feel like you’re watching something important.
For the women, only NCAA-branded courts are the two at Alamodome. Everywhere else, the floor remains untouched from the regular season. So when USF and Washington State played at the University of Texas, for example, the court was the same as any other Longhorns’ game.
Even at the Alamodome, the NCAA didn’t put much effort into the court design. The colors are generic and the center court logo just reads “NCAA women’s basketball” in a generic font. There are few references — if any — to the fact that it’s the NCAA Tournament.
“I think it looks a little embarrassing on the court when you see women’s basketball and nothing connected to March Madness. There are women playing, so clearly it’s women’s basketball,” acting head coach Chris Dailey said. “I think everybody can get that.”
I gotta say, the midcourt graphic just doesn't fit well on the floor pic.twitter.com/Rx9AWHKDq5— Daniel Connolly (@DanielVConnolly) March 22, 2021
Apparently, that’s a conscious decision by the NCAA.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NCAA actively decided to associate “March Madness” with the men’s tournament and not the women’s. Initially, the NCAA claimed the “women’s basketball leadership” wanted to “pursue their own brand identity,” only to quickly retract that poorly thought-out excuse.
Per WSJ, NCAA women’s basketball executives requested permission to use March Madness branding but they were turned down. That decision has significant implications for the women’s tournament, with a branding expert saying that the “value of the women’s tournament would go up pretty dramatically” if it was brought under the March Madness umbrella.
“We strive to strike this delicate balance between being all the same and yet having some independence so that there’s a unique nature of these championships and to the sports,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior president of basketball said on Friday. “We also have somewhat of a challenge and that we have different, equally valued, greatly valued broadcast partners: ESPN for the women’s championship and CBS and Turner for the men’s championship. So branding around broadcasts is an issue for those partners as well as for the two championships.”
For Dailey, she didn’t even know that March Madness only referred to the men’s tournament.
“We talk about March Madness, I didn’t realize that that was an NCAA thing,” she said.
Just like the other disparities that came out earlier this week, this new revelation about the use of March Madness is a self-inflicted wound from the NCAA. It would’ve avoided this entire controversy if it also used March Madness for the women’s tournament or created a separate, unique brand for it.
Instead — just like with the weight room — the NCAA chose to do the wrong thing and hope for the best.
“Unless someone from the NCAA can talk to me, give me a solid reason on how it makes sense — in my mind, it doesn’t make sense,” Dailey said. “So I would have to think that it should be discussed and (the NCAA should) make some changes in the future.”
Maybe the NCAA has a good reason not to associate March Madness with the women’s tournament. And while the financials of men’s and women’s basketball are different, this is a non-profit organization operated through institutions of higher learning that are bound by federal law to provide equal accommodations across genders. This isn’t about money generated from ads. They have no excuse.
How they got here
Syracuse finished fifth in the ACC this season and made it to the semifinals of the conference tournament before it was bounced by Louisville. Last game, the Orange took down 9-seeded South Dakota State in the first round, 72-55. Syracuse led by just two entering the fourth quarter but outscored the Jackrabbits 22-7 over the final ten minutes to secure the victory.
UConn, meanwhile, cruised past High Point 102-59 in its NCAA Tournament opener behind 24 points from Paige Bueckers and 22 points from Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Nika Muhl left the game with a sprained ankle in the second quarter and did not return, leaving her questionable for Tuesday’s game.
UConn holds a 39-12 all-time edge over Syracuse and has won the last 25 meetings dating back to 1997.
The two teams last faced off in this exact same situation: The second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2018 with the No. 1 Huskies and 8-seed Orange. UConn won 94-64 thanks to an NCAA Tournament-record nine 3-pointers from Kia Nurse.
The Huskies also defeated Syracuse in the 2016 national championship game to claim their fourth-straight title, 11th overall.
Quirks of playing in a football stadium
Playing in the Alamodome — a stadium originally designed for football — can be tricky, as UConn knows all too well. The last time the Huskies played there was the 2010 national championship game against Stanford, a game in which they trailed 22-12 at the half. Sometimes, shooting can be difficult in big venues like the Alamodome.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” Dailey said. “I wish our players would have had the experience of playing at the Civic Center because the depth is kind of similar to that. But everybody’s playing in the same arena so it’s just something you have to get used to.”
It was hard to tell if it affected UConn much against High Point since the Huskies only shot nine 3-pointers and did most of their damage from inside the paint. Regardless, UConn will have an edge over its opponents in the regionals since it’ll already have two games under its belt inside the Alamodome.
By the numbers
10 — This is UConn’s 22nd second-round matchup as a No. 1 seed. The Huskies have faced an 8-seed 10 times (including this season) and a 9-seed 12 times.
26 — UConn has advanced to the last 26 Sweet Sixteens. The last time the Huskies didn’t was back in 1992 when Vanderbilt blew them out in the second round, 75-47.
9 — Of Dailey’s 11 wins as acting head coach, all but one were decided by double-digits. The closest game was the 1997 Big East Tournament championship, an 86-77 victory.
- Tune in at 8:30 p.m. EST on either Twitter or YouTube for the Chasing Perfection Pregame Show prior to tip-off between UConn and Syracuse.
- Recap: UConn women’s basketball routs High Point, 102-59
- Highlights - UConn WBB hammers High Point
- Paige Bueckers opens NCAA Tournament with historic performance
- Nika Muhl questionable against Syracuse with sprained ankle