Notre Dame women's basketball has chance to secure seed

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Play a clunker and still win by a baker’s dozen.

That’s the mark of a good basketball team.

The Notre Dame women’s 89-76 win over Georgia Tech Thursday night was the start of a six-game stretch in which the Irish will have to challenge themselves, to likely make up for what they won’t see from their opponent.

Factoring in the Yellow Jackets’ 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference record, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Virginia and Boston College have a combined 7-28 league mark.

Georgia Tech created some problems for the Irish. Or, at least, the Irish created some problems for the Irish, and Georgia Tech just happened to be wearing the dark uniforms.

For the first time in forever, Brianna Turner played like a freshman – and still scored 14 points. Three turnovers, four fouls, and just four rebounds were evidence of the lapses.

Besides Jewell Loyd (29 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) and Taya Reimer (19 points, 8 rebounds), Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw didn’t have many kind words for the effort of the rest of her team.

She spent about 10 minutes in her media session breathing fire.

McGraw knows what’s at stake. And she knows what can happen.

Look at Duke – a 60-56 loser at Boston College, previously a winless ACC cellar-dweller.

Look at Louisville – unbeaten atop the league standings until a five-point loss at Florida State.

The next five games will allow the Irish to make it possible to plant their seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Too early for the coaches or players to peek that far into the future. But, it’s fair game for the media.

This is a Notre Dame team that, despite what was showed Thursday night, is good enough to be a No. 1 seed.

But where? What regional will the Irish be destined for?

That could be critical.

Barring a complete and devastating collapse, the first two rounds of the tournament will be played at Purcell Pavilion. With just a couple exceptions because of scheduling conflicts, the top 16 teams will host four-team events.

It’s the regional round that gets dicey.

Connecticut is a lock for the Albany (N.Y.) bracket. Write that one down in ink. Even with an impending showdown (Feb. 9) at home with top-ranked South Carolina, no matter which way it goes, that isn’t going to change.

Baylor, meanwhile, should be a gimme for Oklahoma City. Maybe not ink, but that one can be scribbled down with a real dark pencil. The ability to draw a crowd will be a factor in that decision.

Then, it gets interesting.

Which team will be the No. 1 seed in the Greensboro (N.C.) Regional? That’s the critical call.

Because of its tough schedule and 6-1 record against ranked teams so far, the Irish have the No. 1 RPI in the country. That’s gotta count for something. The Gamecocks are a distant eighth, even behind fellow Southeastern Conference teams Tennessee and Kentucky.

The sticky part is that there isn’t a team in the West worthy of a No. 1 seed in the Spokane Regional. That means some unlucky unit will be shipped a long way to play.

Last year, it was South Carolina that drew the short straw and was sent packing. The Gamecocks were eliminated by North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

Would the tournament selection committee banish South Carolina west for the second year in a row? Or send the Gamecocks to nearby Greensboro, and make Notre Dame the odd team out, despite what still should be an impressive RPI by season’s end?

The Irish will have had plenty of time to get used to the Greensboro Coliseum floor, since that’s the site of the ACC Tournament in early March.

A shame to waste that opportunity.

Obviously, there’s still plenty of water to flow under the bridge between now and mid-March. But it’s fun to consider the prospects, and wonder if they’ll end up getting what they deserve.

The Irish just have to find a way to avoid having a serious problem.

Like they did Thursday night.

Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner (11) fights through a boxing out by two Georgia Tech players Thursday, January 22, 2015, during the Georgia Tech-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ