Notre Dame women's hoops team gears up for loaded ACC Tournament

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

There will not be time to enjoy the well-known, sandy shores at Myrtle Beach, S.C., this week.

At least not for the 15 teams there to compete in the 40th Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball tourney.

All 15 league teams are involved with play for the lower seeds beginning Wednesday and continuing through Sunday afternoon when the 2017 ACC champion will be crowned.

No. 1 seed Notre Dame, a three-time defending champion, along with the other three top seeds Florida State, Duke and North Carolina State, will not play until the quarterfinal round on Friday.

Florida State coach Sue Semrau deemed the ACC “Tremendous from top to bottom. It is tough. It is a gauntlet.”

And teams will have to run that gauntlet again this week to determine who will reign.

Seven teams ranked in the Top 25 will be playing, a testament to the overall strength of the league.

“Those teams don’t have any bad losses. That is why they are still in the Top 25,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw.

Games last year were at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C., but switched this year to the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. Built in 2012, the HTC center only seats some 3,500 fans so tickets will be at a premium.

“We are already sold out for the Saturday games,” said Nora Lynn Finch, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s senior associate commissioner for women’s basketball. “It should be very exciting with a full house. Almost all seats are gone for the earlier games.”

The Irish, as the No. 1 seed, know they will face either Virginia or Wake Forest. The Irish will arrive at the site on Wednesday and have a chance to scout their potential opponent. Virginia and Wake Forest play at 2 p.m. Thursday. The other three top seeds must wait through two earlier-round games before their opponent is known. Florida State is the No. 2 seed, Duke the No. 3 and North Carolina State the No. 4.

Those four top seeds only have a combined 11 losses all season, most of those coming to league opponents. North Carolina State, for example, holds victories over both the Seminoles and the Irish.

“This is the best the ACC has been since we have been in it (four years),” said McGraw. “The talent is unbelievable. The competition is amazing. We are hoping to get eight teams into the NCAA tournament. That would be tremendous for us.”

McGraw knows the challenge of playing perhaps three games in three games. “Every game will be a battle. We have had teams with injuries during the season now getting healthy. Everybody is coming into this with a chance to win it,” she said.

“We are now the team we knew we could be,” said McGraw. “It took us until March to get there, but that is when you want it.”

Virginia Tech and Clemson open the tourney at 1 p.m. Wednesday, and Georgia Tech meets Boston College, with Pittsburgh facing North Carolina in the evening nightcap. A four-game slate will be played Thursday before the Friday quarterfinal matchups will be known. Notre Dame does know its first game will be at 2 p.m. Friday.

Notre Dame, looking for its fourth straight crown, can join some impressive company if it wins the title. Duke won the ACC postseason tourney five consecutive times from the 2000 to the 2004 season, while North Carolina won the title four straight years from 2005 to 2008.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Atlantic Coast Conference

Tournament pairings

At HTC Center

Conway, S.C.

First Round

Wednesday

Virginia Tech (17-12) vs. Clemson (14-15), 1 p.m.

Georgia Tech (16-13) vs. Boston College (9-20), 3:30 p.m.

Pittsburgh (13-16) vs. North Carolina (14-15), 6:30 p.m.

Second Round

Thursday

Louisville (25-6) vs. Virginia Tech-Clemson winner, 11 a.m.

Virginia (18-11) vs. Wake Forest (15-14), 2 p.m.

Miami (21-7) vs. Georgia Tech-Boston College winner, 6 p.m.

Syracuse (20-9) vs. Pittsburgh-North Carolina winner, 8:30 p.m.

Quarterfinals

Friday

N.C. State (22-7) vs. Louisville--Virginia Tech-Clemson winner, 11 a.m.

Notre Dame (27-3) vs. Virginia-Wake Forest winner, 2 p.m.

Florida State (25-5) vs. Miami--Georgia Tech-Boston College winner, 6 p.m.

Duke (25-4) vs. Syracuse--Pittsburgh-North Carolina winner, 8:30 p.m.

Semifinals

Saturday

N.C. State--Louisville--Virginia Tech-Clemson winner vs. Notre Dame--Virginia-Wake Forest winner, Noon

Florida State--Miami--Georgia Tech-Boston College winner vs. Duke--Syracuse--Pittsburgh-North Carolina winner, 2:30 p.m.

Championship

Sunday

Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw and the top-seeded Irish are set for the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Conway, S.C. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)