Caitlin Clark is among college basketball's greats, with or without an NCAA title

Caitlin Clark doesn’t need a title to cement her legacy.

She is now the all-time leading scorer in college basketball, men’s and women’s, having passed Pete Maravich on Sunday afternoon. She also holds the Iowa records for 3-point shots and assists, and took the Hawkeyes to their first Final Four in 30 years. She is all but assured of winning her second consecutive Player of the Year Award next month, making her the first repeat winner since Breanna Stewart won three in a row from 2014 to 2016.

She is, to put it simply, one of the best college players ever, and that will not change whether she leaves Iowa with a national championship or not.

"There's still so much more fun to have," Clark said after the game. "And we're not done."

Of course Clark wants a title before she goes to the WNBA. No one at her level is satisfied with just being here. She and the Hawkeyes have extra motivation, too, having come up short against LSU in last year’s championship game.

But winning a title would only add to her legacy. Not winning one will take nothing away from it.

It is difficult to win championships, particularly in team sports. Talent, hard work and will aren’t enough. You need the right combination of players and the right coach. You need luck avoiding injuries. You need to catch some breaks along the way.

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Dan Marino is rightly recognized as one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, yet he never won a Super Bowl. Only got to the game once, in fact. The Miami Dolphins’ defense was mediocre for much of his career, and they lacked a standout running back.

Charles Barkley is one of the top 50 players in NBA history, yet he doesn’t have a ring. The Philadelphia 76ers were a team in transition when he was there, and he and the Phoenix Suns ran into the buzzsaw that was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1993. There was potential with the Houston Rockets, but they couldn’t overcome age and injuries.

Ken Griffey Jr. might be the purest talent Major League Baseball has ever seen, yet he never even made the World Series. Sublime as he was, Junior could only carry the Seattle Mariners so far.

Caitlin Clark doesn't need to win a title. Her legacy already is secure.
Caitlin Clark doesn't need to win a title. Her legacy already is secure.

Or how about Dawn Staley? She played in three Final Fours at Virginia, made the championship game in 1991 and was the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament that year. But she never won the title as a player.

Would anyone argue any of those players, all Hall of Famers, is lesser for not winning a title? Aside from Barkley’s buddies using it as another excuse to bust on him, of course not. For every John Elway who finally wins a Super Bowl in the twilight of his career, there are many, many more who accomplished everything but winning a title.

Barry Sanders. Bruce Smith. Eric Dickerson. Ernie Banks. Barry Bonds. Elgin Baylor. Patrick Ewing. The list goes on. And on. And on.

It’s even more of a crapshoot in college. At least in the pros, every player on a team is the best of the best. That isn’t the case in college, where the talent gaps are glaring from team to team and even from player to player on a team.

Look at the list of college Player of the Year winners, and you’ll quickly see that being a transcendent player does not guarantee you a title, too. Many don’t even make it to the Final Four the year they win. But it doesn’t diminish their accomplishments or leave an asterisk on their careers.

It simply means the vagaries of that season, of that team, were not in their favor.

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Clark’s best chance with Iowa was probably last season, and even then she and the Hawkeyes had to outplay their expectations to reach the title game. They took on unbeaten South Carolina, the overall No. 1 seed and defending national champion, in the Final Four and few had Iowa emerging victorious.

Yet Clark had what was, until then, the game of her career, finishing with 41 points and scoring or assisting on all but five of Iowa’s 28 field goals in the 77-73 upset of the Gamecocks. But LSU manhandled Clark and Iowa in the final.

Though Iowa lost only two key players, starters Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock, their absences are notable this season. Czinano’s in particular. Iowa has two losses to unranked teams, and one of those came at home. The Hawkeyes had a stretch last month when they lost two of three, including a rout by No. 14 Indiana in which Clark was a dismal 8 of 26.

That game was an aberration. But outstanding as Clark is, she cannot carry the Hawkeyes by herself.

Maybe Iowa catches fire in the NCAA tournament, where it’s projected to be a No. 2 seed like last year. But if it doesn’t, and Clark’s outstanding career ends without a championship, it does not lessen the magnitude of what she’s done.

With or without a title, Clark is one of the best there’s ever been.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on social media @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Caitlin Clark's legacy secure, with or without an NCAA title