Minimal drama for Notre Dame women's basketball

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – There will be very little worry. There will be no fingernail biting or sitting on the edge of chairs in nervous anticipation.

When the NCAA women’s basketball selection committee announces its pairings for the 2016 tournament Monday night, No. 2-ranked Notre Dame knows it will be in a good place.

The Irish are certain to be a No. 1 seed, certain to host the first two rounds of games next weekend and certain to be the No. 2 or No. 3 national seed.

 The 64-team field will be announced Monday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

The only mystery may be where the Irish would travel for an NCAA regional if they win their first two games. Likely sites are Sioux Falls, S.D. or Lexington, Ky.

ND head coach Muffet McGraw has no complaints about the format of the national women’s tournament – and she is a fan of the home-court edge given the top 16 teams in the tourney.

“I love getting home court,” she said. “It means the regular season really does count. When you are playing all those game for home court in the tourney it really does help.”

McGraw remembers other formats. Not many years ago as a No. 2 seed, the Irish were sent to Utah. They beat the Utes in the first round and, according to McGraw, there was no one in the stands for the second round because the home team was eliminated.

“I think most coaches generally are the type of people who realize you earn your way to the home court,” she said. “A coach can’t complain when his team did not have the kind of season he thought it would have.”

McGraw remembers having eight teams sent to one site, and said there is some talk about taking the final 16 teams to one destination – like Orlando or Las Vegas – but she does not believe major change to the tourney format is imminent. She did say that regionals have been poorly attended, and that is where the NCAA needs to do a little work.

In many years, the Irish have been sent to far away locations, like Oklahoma City. Lexington is much closer to South Bend, but many feel the Irish will be slotted for Sioux Falls, S.D. 

“I just want to be close for our fans,” said McGraw. “We were in Dayton in 2011, but not much closer since then.” 

But after playing South Dakota State early in the season, she is not against going back to that state, although not the same place as the early-season game. 

“We had a fantastic experience playing South Dakota there. All of our players enjoyed it,” she said of ND's 75-64 victory in December.

After winning the Atlantic Coast Conference postseason tourney last weekend in Greensboro, the players were given time off for spring break. They returned to campus Friday and practiced this past weekend.

When they gather Monday evening in Club Naimoli at at the Purcell Pavilion it will likely be a mini celebration of the season and when the pairings are announced, the Irish will know their first round foe and can start fine-tuning preparations.

While the Irish players were enjoying an abbreviated spring break, McGraw and her staff were hard at work.

 “I was in Portland, and Atlanta this week,” she said of recruiting efforts for the 2017 class.

Unable to speak specifically of possible future Irish at this point in time, McGraw did say she feels very good about their efforts.

 “These are the top players in the country. We will lose three players this year and likely only take three more.” 

Notre Dame can give up to 15 scholarships, but McGraw likes a team of no more than 12. 

“But we won’t say no to any of the best in the country,” she said.

Are the Irish ready for the tourney grind?

“Now it’s a six-game season,” she said, referring to the NCAA tournament.  “After a break, when we come back to practice the intensity is so high. It just goes to another level. Sometimes we cut it short. It’s like 'Wow we are going to kill ourselves.'”

So McGraw feels the Irish will be “up” for playing even the No. 63 team in the tourney.

 “I think the conference and all the ranked teams we play during the year will have us ready for the tourney she said.”

But don’t kid yourselves. She and assistants Carol Owens, Niele Ivey and Beth Cunningham have put in plenty of hours scouting tendencies and strengths of possible first-round opponents.

It’s the Notre Dame way — and it has worked so very well.

Notre Dame players celebrate with Madison Cable, second from left, after an NCAA college basketball championship game against Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Sunday, March 6, 2016. Notre Dame won 68-57. Cable was the tournament MVP. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)