Defining a Dynasty: Do the UConn Huskies still qualify?

(Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant)

If there is one conversation that virtually every sports fan will have an opinion on, it is dynasties. If you love Alabama, or more recently, Clemson football, you love dynasties. If you are a fan of one of their SEC or ACC victims…probably not as much. So whether you’re rooting for your program’s dynasty to continue, or desperately waiting for your rival to cease their dominance, discussing dynasties is almost always topical and interesting. 

This brings us to a series of questions…what is a dynasty? How should we measure one, and hat is the difference between dynasty and elite? And when is it acceptable to declare a dynasty dead? 

To answer these questions, we’ll look at a modern-day college program who has unquestionably been a dynasty for a long time: The UConn Women’s Basketball program. Under the expert tutelage of Geno Auriemma, the Huskies have dominated, winning ten national titles since 2000. Only once in that span has one of Auriemma’s teams eclipsed five losses in a season; on the flip side, the Huskies have finished unbeaten five times. They have unquestionably been the dynasty of the modern era of college women’s basketball, but lately, their stranglehold on the top spot has begun to slip. 

For the first time since 2005-2008, the Huskies have gone three successive years without claiming a national title; they do not have a player on their roster who has won a championship. Within their era of success, such a statistic is unprecedented. But, while they may not have claimed their usual spot atop the basketball world, they’ve still knocked on the door each year, losing in the Final Four the past three years. They’ve been among the last four teams standing for a stunning 12 straight years. But the lack of recent titles and Final Four success has people questioning if UConn’s dynasty is over. Just recently, their 98-game home winning streak came crashing to a halt when they scored just 6 fourth-quarter points in a 74-58 loss to defending national champion Baylor. 

The look of a 98-game home winning streak being ended.  (Brad Horrigan/The Hartford Courant)

If you measure a dynasty by consistency in claiming titles, then you might be right in declaring the Huskies’ dynasty dead. But such a measurement is faulty and doesn’t encompass the true nature of a dynasty. A dynasty is winning titles but also maintaining a certain level of dominance. Teams can win a couple of titles and not be considered a dynasty – remember the San Francisco Giants winning titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Three years in five titles may be considered a dynasty, but in 2011, 2013, and 2015, the Giants were just 246-240 and didn’t make the playoffs. They never felt like a dynasty because they never maintained their success – it just felt like they got hot at the right time. That’s certainly not what UConn has does, and it’s why we shouldn’t make their title count the sole measure of their dynasty. 

I believe the perfect measurement was described by Kurt Russell when he depicted USA hockey coach Herb Brooks in the movie “Miracle”. Any sports fan knows about the 1980 USA hockey team, which stunned the Soviet team that had won four consecutive Olympic Gold Medals in historically dominant fashion. In the movie, Brooks watches Soviet film with his team and says, “They know they’re going to win. And so does their opponent.” 

This is the essence of a dynasty. It’s a level of intimidation, a sheer presence that has your opponent cowering before the first whistle. UConn still has that presence in the world of college basketball. Maybe the most elite teams believe they have a shot, but to this day, no one has shown the ability to consistently beat this team. Last year, UConn finally dropped to a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, but when they ran into #1 Louisville, the Huskies led the entire way and still advanced to the Final Four. Even on a so-called down year, the Huskies maintained their place among the best in the country. 

UConn’s recent loss to Baylor threatened the veil of invincibility that has long surrounded their program. A double-digit home loss will do that, but the fact remains that until UConn starts losing when it truly matters, their dynasty prevails. It was extremely similar with a dynasty like the New England Patriots; they may not have won the Super Bowl each year, but they maintained a certain level of dominance, and nobody wanted to play them in January. But a 1st-round playoff loss at home was an announcement that the AFC has caught up, and they no longer fear New England. That message has not been sent to UConn. They continue to win, often by brutally large margins. They are 106-0 all time in AAC play, and before last year’s ‘lackluster’ 35-3 season, they had not lost a regular season game since November 14, 2014. One loss does not destroy a dynasty and neither does three straight semifinal losses. The Huskies are still here about about 95% of the time they take the court, they know they’re going to win…and so does their opponent. They may have a few challengers at the very top, but none of those teams have even come close to maintaining a similar level of continued success. Therein lies the difference between a dynasty and an elite program. Everyone loves to declare a dynasty dead, but now is not the Huskies’ time to go. 

The dynasty lives on. 

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