Notre Dame coaches have women's basketball scouting down to a science

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

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Muffet McGraw remembers piling into a compact car when she was the head coach at Lehigh and driving off with her husband, Matt, to see a game involving Immaculata, or Philadelphia Textile or Allentown.

That’s how scouting reports were done in the 1980s — in person. McGraw sat in the stands, furiously scribbling notes into a spiral-bound, college-rule notebook.

“I didn’t have any full-time assistants at Lehigh, so there was a lot of traveling,” McGraw recalled. “I’d be taking notes about tendencies, who the shooters were, if they played zone or man, if they pressed, when they’d press.”

Since there was no access to game film, McGraw didn’t have the luxury of rewinding and getting a second or third look at a player’s ability to go left or how she was getting open for a shot.

Technology has transformed scouting, but it hasn’t shortened the hours. Time that once was spent traveling is now spent pouring over game film and statistics.

Notre Dame went into Selection Monday for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament with more than 200 game films in its library. McGraw focuses on the Irish, and the assistants focus on the opponent.

When Robert Morris was announced as the first-round opponent, the Irish assistant coaches were able to start breaking down film long before the selection party clean-up was complete.

Irish assistants Carol Owens, Niele Ivey and Beth Morgan Cunningham worked until about 2:30 a.m. after the pairing of the Irish (32-0) and Robert Morris (21-11) was announced. By 6:30, they were putting the finishing touches on a scouting report for a 10 a.m. meeting. By the time the Irish tip off against Robert Morris at 1:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday in the first-round game at Toledo’s Savage Arena, the Irish will know a whole lot about the Colonials.

For the NCAA tournament, one assistant coach is assigned the first opponent, Robert Morris, one assistant is assigned to scout Vanderbilt, and another will focus on Arizona State. Notre Dame will only have from Saturday night to Monday afternoon to get ready for the Vanderbilt-Arizona State winner.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, the Irish staff had to prepare scouting reports for games the next day.

“I don’t ever look ahead, but they do,” McGraw said of her assistants. “That’s their job.”

Angie Potthoff, Notre Dame’s video coordinator, tapes women’s basketball games telecast across the country, building the potential NCAA opponent library starting in early November. For each potential opponent, the Irish assistants can look at a minimum of six game films along with statistics and player bios.

Players get scouting reports e-mailed to them. The scouting reports include film clips. Players are quizzed by coaches to make sure they have thoroughly learned the report.

Notre Dame sophomore guard Jewell Loyd said the scouting report always comes through with a big assist.

“Before we played Penn State, I knew Maggie Lucas’ tendencies, how she came off screens, if she dribbled cross over, right to left,” Loyd said of the Penn State All-American. “I watched her zone tendencies, and knew that she had a cross-over step back.”

Lucas entered the game on Dec. 4 against Notre Dame averaging 22.2 points a game. Against the Irish, Lucas scored seven points in a 77-67 loss to the Irish, finishing 1-of-8 shooting. She didn’t score until 5:18 remained in the game.

Owens said that networking is an important component of scouting.

“We talk to coaches we know, and we help each other out in our conference,” Owens said. “If Duke calls up and they want some help on somebody we played in the non-conference part of the schedule, we help them out, because we want to protect the conference.”

Cunningham said that even if she glances at a box scores or sees a game on television of a college men’s game or NBA game, she naturally falls into scout mode.

“There’s no more just sitting down and watching a game as a fan,” Cunningham said. “You still down and you’re watching it as a coach would, and you’re scribbling notes about plays on the back of envelops and sticky notes.”

CRallo@SBTinfo.com | Twitter: @rallo_NDInsider

From left, Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey, associate coach Beth Cunningham, coach Muffet McGraw, and associate head coach Carol Owens in the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Florida State on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Notre Dame defeated Florida State 81-60. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)