Is Oklahoma Regional destination for Notre Dame women's basketball?

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

Like her fellow Division I women’s basketball siblings, Notre Dame’s Muffet McGraw isn’t a fan of those “if the season ended today” scenarios.

The season doesn’t, of course. For the fourth-ranked Irish, 23-2 overall thanks to a season-long nine-game winning streak, there’s five games remaining in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season, starting with a Big Monday encounter with No. 11 Duke at 9 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion. And then there’s the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., the first week of March.

Still, in the interest of creating excitement for the upcoming NCAA tournament, the Division I women’s committee released a list of its 20 top teams who can start making preparations to host first-and second-round on-campus games on March 20-23. As expected, fourth-ranked Notre Dame was one of the 20 schools and as expected, the committee indicated that “if the season ended today,” Notre Dame would be one of the top four teams. It means nothing and was probably met with little celebration at defending two-time champion Connecticut, South Carolina and Notre Dame, who were ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

But there were probably more than a few moans and groans coming from the Big 12 Conference, specifically Waco, Texas – the home of third-ranked Baylor – when sixth-ranked Tennessee got the No. 4 nod Wednesday.

“I told the team (Wednesday) that it doesn’t matter where we are right now (in the committee’s eyes),” McGraw said. “It’s where we are at the end of the season. It’s a compliment to know that we have put ourselves in this position. I feel we’ve come a long way this season. I feel we’ve improved with each game. I’m happy where we are but we can’t afford to rest with five really important ACC games.”

The NCAA tournament committee listed the other 16 teams among its 20 in alphabetical order: Arizona State, Baylor, California, Duke, Florida State, George Washington, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon State, Stanford, Texas A&M and Washington. But Arizona State (Pac-12 Gymnastics Championship) and Louisville (NCAA men’s first- and second-round site) can’t host because of conflicts, though they could be ranked in the top 16.

McGraw was happiest, however, for George Washington and its coach Jonathan Tsipis, who helped the Irish to back-to-back Final Fours in 2011 and 2012 before taking the job in Washington, D.C. The Atlantic 10 school is currently 21-2.

“For a mid-major to be considered, I feel great for Jonathan,” McGraw said.

Wednesday’s “ranking” also sets up Connecticut as the top seed for the Albany, N.Y., regional March 27-30 and South Carolina as the top seed at the Greensboro, N.C., Regional. With Notre Dame at No. 3, it would be the top-seeded team at the Oklahoma City Regional with Tennessee having to play out of the Spokane, Wash., Regional.

Naismith Award

Junior wing Jewell Loyd and freshman forward Brianna Turner are among the 30 players still being considered for the Naismith Trophy Women’s Player of the Year Award. Loyd, who paces the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring at 20.7 points per game, and the 6-foot-3 Turner, who leads the nation in field-goal shooting at 67.7 percent, are among six ACC players still in consideration, according to a release from the Atlanta Tipoff Club Wednesday afternoon. The other four are Florida State junior center Adut Bulgak, Georgia Tech sophomore guard Kaela Davis, North Carolina sophomore guard Allisha Gray and Duke senior center/forward Elizabeth Williams.

“We know Jewell has been phenomenal,” McGraw said. “I’m really happy for Brianna. She earned her way on that list.” 

Turner is one of three freshmen in the running along with South Carolina guard A’ja Wilson and Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell, who leads the nation in scoring at 25.5 points per game.

The ACC has the most players on the list followed by the SEC and Pacific-12 with five each, the American Athletic Conference and Big Ten with four each, the Big East with two, and the Big 12, Ivy, Colonial Athletic and Atlantic 10 with one each. Connecticut and Stanford each have three players remaining in the hunt. The Huskies are junior guard Moriah Jefferson, junior forward Breanna Stewart and senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. In addition to those three and their ACC competitors, the Irish also have played against Maryland sophomore guard Lexie Brown, Tennessee senior center Isabelle Harrison and DePaul senior guard Brittany Hrynko.

The Naismith Midseason Top 30 will be whittled down to four finalists for voting in March and the winner will be announced April 6.

Injury update

Guards Whitney Holloway (right foot strain) and Mychal Johnson (left knee soreness) were limited but dressed and participating as the Irish returned to the practice court after days off Monday and Tuesday. McGraw scheduled practices for Thursday and Friday and will give the team off Saturday before practicing Sunday prior to the Big Monday clash against No. 11 Duke on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. inside the Purcell Pavilion.

Streaking

After taking care of Boston College for the second time this season, this by an 89-56 count at Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Sunday, Notre Dame has won nine straight since its 78-63 loss at Miami, Fla., on Jan. 8, its longest streak of the season  … Ironically, Duke dropped a 60-56 decision at Boston College on Thursday, Jan. 22 and has now won five straight, starting with a 74-67 overtime win at North Carolina on Jan. 25 and also a 66-58 win over Louisville on Monday, Feb. 2 at Durham, N.C. … Maryland has won 16 straight since losing to Notre Dame in Fort Wayne on Dec. 3, 92-72, in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game that is also listed as a Notre Dame home game for team records. The Lady Terps beat Rutgers, 80-69, Tuesday night in a Big Ten showdown at College Park, Md. …

No. 1 UConn has won 22 straight since its 88-86 overtime loss at Stanford back in November and its 87-62 victory over previously No. 1 South Carolina Monday ended USC’s 22-game winning streak to start the season.

Notre Dame's starting five players -- Jewell Loyd (32), Lindsay Allen (15), Michaela Mabrey (23), Taya Reimer (12) and Brianna Turner (11) -- watch the pre game video Thursday, February 5, 2015, before the Virginia-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ