Caitlin Clark stands on her own after stellar Elite Eight performance

Caitlin Clark has a bright future ahead of her.

There’s a big phenomenon when conversing about sports to find the next big thing, or who a younger athlete could become when she or he reaches their potential. Kobe Bryant or LeBron James having a Michael Jordan-like arch dominated conversations for over a decade. The name of baseball’s next great power hitter in the post-steroids era is still up for grabs. And as I was watching Iowa’s Caitlin Clark absolutely pick apart a stout Louisville team in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight on Sunday, I couldn’t think of a great comparison. She’s truly one of a kind that’ll break basketball’s mold after she retires.

The best basketball comparison is Steph Curry. The production looks the same, their presence is similar, and how opponents defend them, mostly unsuccessfully, has comparable qualities. Yet, it’s plain to see how Clark and Curry play the position completely differently. Just as Mike Epps has joked, Curry plays the game like a 10-year-old with how he hoists the ball in the air and runs around the court. He’s the best perimeter shooter to ever hold a basketball, so that blacktop, free-flowing nature works for him. Clark’s game is much more refined, more like an assassin carefully, yet diabolically, picking her spots. Clark just calls her own number frequently, evidenced by her 41 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, three steals, and 8-for-14 clip from beyond the arc in the win over the Cardinals. Those video-game numbers were the first 40-point triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game ever, men or women.

Then it hit me when I mentioned video games, as I think one day Clark will follow in the footsteps of Candace Parker, Sue Bird, and Diana Taurasi to be a cover athlete for 2K or another basketball game. Joe Burrow is primed to be a cover athlete for the Madden franchise in the next few years. And I think he’s the proper comparison for Clark. His personality is flashy, but it’s business and nothing other-worldly on the battlefield. Those traits are executed to a level where you know you can put an entire game plan behind them delivering on the field. Clark is the exact same type of athlete. A comparison at all could be seen as unneeded, as Clark can stand alone as one-of-one. It makes it easier to recognize her greatness with contemporaries.

Much like Burrow’s professional career, he’s been close to a championship but hasn’t lifted the Lombardi Trophy. Clark is two wins away from bringing an NCAA Tournament championship to the Big Ten, a rare sight these days. Burrow did win a college championship with LSU and Clark looks poised to dominate the WNBA whenever she decides to leave Iowa City. And just like Burrow’s time with the Bengals, Clark will likely have to go through the biggest behemoth in her respective sport to get to the title. Burrow slayed the Patrick Mahomes giant once but lost in the Super Bowl. Earlier this year, he couldn’t repeat that feat. Undefeated South Carolina women’s basketball has to go through Maryland to get to the Final Four on Monday night, but did you read the first word of this sentence? As great as the Terps are, they’ve lost six more games than the Gamecocks have all year at 28-6, including a 25-point blowout at the hands of Dawn Staley’s team four months ago.

Of course, there are similarities between a quarterback and a point guard in how they facilitate offense. If there’s an offensive position for Iowa where Clark doesn’t touch the ball, it’s probably a fast break she’s not involved in. The best quality about both Burrow and Clark is how they both elevate everyone around them. They understand the spotlight is the brightest on them and don’t shy away from it. And in Clark’s case, last night’s performance will only add to her status as one of the best college basketball players of all time. And if anyone can take down South Carolina, it’ll be Iowa on the backs of another legendary game from the Mayor of Iowa City.

No upsets in Women’s College Basketball, huh?

Ole Miss Rebels players celebrate their win during the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Stanford Cardinal.

For those still clinging by their fingertips to the argument that their lack of interest in Women’s College Basketball is due to a lack of competitive balance, just let go and fall into the sea of bad takes. You folks can join the crowds who believe that Mens’ College Basketball is more fundamentally sound than the NBA and that stationary quarterbacks are more effective than mobile ones. Unfortunately for Tara VanDerveer and her Stanford Cardinal, they were, again. the program to take a major upset on the chin that highlighted the strength of competition in Women’s College Basketball.

Going into the 2023 tournament, Stanford was a No. 1 seed for the third consecutive season. The program won a National Championship in 2021 and was in the Final Four last season. However, on Sunday night Stanford’s 2023 run came to a startlingly abrupt end. VanDerveer’s team was knocked out of the tournament in the second round by No. 8-seed Ole Miss, 54-49.

Stanford has been here before

This loss makes Stanford the only No. 1 seed to not advance to at least the Sweet 16 since 2009. Also, while Virginia’s Men’s Basketball Team shocked America by being a No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in 2017, the Stanford Women’s Basketball Team was actually the first Division I basketball team to suffer that defeat. In 1998 Stanford — reeling from injury — lost in the first-round loss to 16th-seed Harvard.

When Geno Auriemma and Pat Summit were coaching dominant programs to multiple NCAA Championships, there were people who would argue that level of dominance was not good for the sport. Connecticut winning 90 consecutive games throughout the course of three seasons was “boring,” even though the UCLA men winning 88 in a row in the early 1970s was “legendary.” It’s the lazy argument that frequent wrong-side-of-history dweller Darren Rovell made last March.

Buick aired a commercial highlighting the lack of coverage that women’s college sports receives in comparison to men’s. Rovell decided to quickly publish his opinion about it. He posted the commercial in its entirety and added his thoughts on why he believes that the Women’s Division I Tournament does not receive the same media coverage as the men’s.

Rovell tweeted this out just prior to the start of the 2022 NCAA Basketball Tournaments. In 2021, three double-digit seeds in the women’s tourney won their first-round matchups. During the first-round in the women’s tourney following Rovell’s tweet, Caitlin Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes were a two-seed just like they are this season. Unfortunately for Iowa, she didn’t score or assist on 27 consecutive points last season like she did on Sunday. In 2022, the Hawkeyes lost against Creighton in the second round. This season they are headed to the Sweet 16.

The fact that a highly recruited player like Clark elected to stay near home and play at Iowa instead of UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame, or Stanford, is evidence that women’s college basketball these days is far from a race that only features a few standout competitors.

March is a wild time in college basketball. In a one-game sample, a higher seed getting upset by a lower seed is almost always a realistic possibility. For those who believed that Cinderella ignored the women’s game, here is a reminder from Stanford that not only has she always been around, but she is making her presence felt more frequently these days.

So for those who don’t care to watch Women’s College Basketball, you all have been warned that the “lack of competition,” argument is asinine. For those who don’t like today’s game and also didn’t appreciate the UConn and Tennessee dominance of the past, the problem is in the mirror. Not on the T.V.