Why women’s hoops feels more entertaining these days than men’s game

In LeBron James’ new podcast with J.J. Redick for basketball nerds, Mind the Game, James bemoaned men’s college basketball in two of the three episodes.

“It does not translate for me,” James said. “It frustrates me. My high blood pressure picks up … so I try to stay away from it.”

James says that having one son (Bronny) who just finished his freshman season at Southern California and another son (Bryce) who likely will play college basketball.

While the men’s college game remains popular, particularly during March Madness, a question has popped up, especially among NBA executives who have taken their eyes off scouting men’s players to watch the women’s tournament: is women’s college basketball more entertaining than the men’s game?

To James’ point, the men’s game can be a drag sometimes with coaches micromanaging the shot clock, slowing the game and reducing it to a boring, offensively stagnant affair, sometimes further marred by a grueling procession to the free throw line.

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“They always play the game the right way – passing and cutting, sharing the ball. They’re definitely going to get on the floor for loose balls,” James said of NCAA women’s basketball. “But there’s men’s teams that’s doing that as well too at the end of the day. But the star power that we have in the women’s game outweighs some of the men, too.”

Certainly, the women’s game is enjoying a moment with its stars, from Iowa’s Caitlin Clark to LSU’s Angel Reese to Southern California’s JuJu Watkins to UConn’s Paige Bueckers, that has captivated basketball fans.

The women’s game has had moments before, but this is something different and transcends star power. The games (most of the time) are enjoyable to watch because it’s a free-flowing game with creative offensive sets and players who can execute those plays.

This is not a novel thought. Nearly 30 years ago, John Wooden, the great UCLA men’s basketball coach, said, “To me, the best pure basketball I see today is among the better women’s teams.”

Today, there is an unprecedented amount of talent in women’s college basketball.

“There’s just more shotmaking than there used to be,” Southern California women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb told USA TODAY Sports. ‘I have a friend who 10 years ago would say women’s basketball is a game of missed shots and turnovers a lot. So the team that’s the best offensive rebounding team might win or the team that can capitalize. And those times have changed. There’s more shotmaking in women’s basketball, not just hitting open 3s, but literally shot creation and shotmaking.”

That talent and shotmaking has allowed women’s coaches to open up the game, and in some cases, mimic NBA offenses.

“You have this star power, you have a lot of players right now who can make plays and coaches are maybe more willing to let them do that,” said Gottlieb, who spent two years as an assistant in the NBA.

The UConn-Illinois men’s Elite Eight game was brutal. It was 23-23 late in the first half, and 28-23 UConn at halftime. Nearly 50 minutes of real time passed before Illinois scored again – after it fell behind 53-23. Every game is not like that or like Duke’s 54-51 victory against Houston in a men’s Sweet 16 game. Alabama, for example, is on a sprint to 90 points in every game.

Just like every women’s game is not a 94-87 Iowa win against LSU. The Hawkeyes had just 16 points in the fourth quarter of their second-round victory against West Virginia, were 1-for-10 from the field and 14 of those points came on free throws.

Not one thing is all good and the other all bad.

But the women’s game has free-flowing aspects that don’t always include milking the shot clock to under 10, and if the play doesn’t result in a good shot, there’s not enough time remaining for secondary offense and it’s a helter-skelter scramble to get a shot off. As is the case with too many men’s teams.

The data has proven that early offense yields the most efficient points per possession. That’s a facet Gottlieb picked up during her time as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“You certainly have actions and you certainly have patterns, but then you just (let) players go,” Gottlieb said. “I can speak to what I do and how I’ve tried to carry that over. Our players are not afraid to take an early shot. We want them to. And so our best offense by far is when JuJu gets the ball off the rim and just goes in transition. It feels more like the NBA to me.”

The women’s game also benefits from rules that are not employed in the men’s games such as four quarters instead of two halves and advancing the ball to halfcourt on a timeout. Because of two halves, the men’s game gets mired in too many free throws, interrupting the flow. The women’s game resets team fouls after each quarter, and James said the men’s game needs to go to quarters and consider lowering the shot clock from 30 to 24 seconds.

Is the women’s game more entertaining than the men’s game? Aesthetics are subjective. But the growth and enjoyment in the women’s game is undeniable in TV viewership and ticket demand. It’s rooted in a style that appeals to basketball fans, and that’s a credit to the coaches, and most of all, the players.

Follow NBA columnist Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt

This post appeared first on USA TODAY