Plenty of road tests for Notre Dame women's hoops in 2017-18

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame will spend most of the early part of the 2017-18 women’s college basketball season away from home, and that’s fine by coach Muffet McGraw.

“I think it’s important to go on the road,” McGraw said after ND released its full schedule for the coming season Thursday afternoon. “I think you’ve gotta figure out how you’re going to play on the road (in preparation for the NCAA Tournament).

McGraw’s club navigated a stretch of 10 road dates over 12 games last season.

“I think it’s how you get better,’’ she added. “It’s a big part of our scheduling.”

The Irish play their regular-season opener Saturday, Nov. 11, at home against Mount St. Mary’s, then journey to other destinations for their next seven games, not appearing at Purcell Pavilion again until a Wednesday, Dec. 6 visit by Michigan State.

After playing 15 regular-season games at Purcell and 15 away in 2016-17 in advance of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, the Irish have just 13 regular-season home games slotted for this winter, with 16 other contests being either true road games or part of the three-round Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla.

As is typical for the Irish, it’s a power-peppered schedule.

There are at least eight opponents ranked in ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early” preseason Top 25 that was set in late April — and the count could swell to 10 if the Irish end up meeting defending national champion South Carolina and South Florida in that Nov. 24-26 Gulf Coast event.

“My goal every year is to challenge our team,” said McGraw, whose club is No. 5 on that ESPN list. “We are trying to prepare for the ACC with a tough non-conference schedule. That’s our first goal … and then we want to bring in some great teams for our fans to see.”

Besides its league lineup, ND’s home opponents will include No. 24 DePaul (Sunday, Dec. 17), No. 16 Marquette (Wednesday, Dec. 20) and No. 8 Tennessee (Thursday, Jan. 18).

That matchup against the Volunteers once again comes well after the ACC season has started with a Dec. 28 visit from Syracuse.

This is the seventh consecutive year that women’s basketball blue bloods Notre Dame and Tennessee are slotting a meeting for mid to late January, after each team’s conference season is already well under way. The Irish won the first five such contests, before the host Vols solved ND last winter, 71-69.

As previously announced, the bluest of those blue bloods is also on the Irish schedule again. Notre Dame visits UConn Sunday, Dec. 3, in a showdown that caps the aforementioned seven games in a row away from Purcell.

The Huskies, who were seeking a fifth straight national title last season, beat the host Irish 72-61 last December as part of their record-setting 111-game winning streak. It ultimately ended in March with an NCAA Final Four loss at the buzzer to Mississippi State.

This year’s ND-UConn contest and the Tennessee game are both slated as national telecasts on ESPN, as is a Thursday, Jan. 11 visit to No. 10 Louisville.

Three other games — Jan. 28 at No. 25 Florida State, Feb. 4 at No. 12 Duke and the Feb. 25 regular-season finale at home against North Carolina State — are planned for ESPN2.

Notre Dame (33-4 overall, 15-1 in the conference last season) will be trying this winter to win both its fifth straight regular-season and tourney titles since joining the ACC in 2013-14.

ND’s double-dip league opponents for 2017-18 are Georgia Tech (5-11 in the ACC a year ago) and Boston College (2-14). The Irish face the remaining 12 league members once each.

“The conference schedule is brutal every year,” said McGraw, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last week.

The coach said the league lineup and the rest of the schedule taken collectively are roughly “not any different” from most years.

“What’s different,” McGraw said, “is we don’t have a veteran point guard back, and it’s different without Brianna Turner.”

Turner, a second-team All-American forward, said last week that she will sit out all of 2017-18 as she recovers from a torn ACL and gears her preparation toward a final collegiate season in 2018-19.

At point guard, the Irish lose four-year starter Lindsay Allen, a third-team All-American last season, but have added Lili Thompson, a two-time All-Pac-12 selection at Stanford who will play as a graduate student.

Buying tickets

To purchase season tickets for Notre Dame, visit und.com/buytickets and click on women’s basketball. Prices range from $60 to $100.

Single-game tickets go on sale to the public Oct. 12.

Shepard’s status

McGraw said Thursday that Notre Dame has not received word from the NCAA yet regarding the hardship waiver requested for junior Jessica Shepard, an All-Big Ten forward who transferred from Nebraska.

It the waiver is granted, Shepard would be eligible this coming season. Otherwise, she won’t be eligible until 2018-19.

“Probably next week,” McGraw said of when a decision might come.

ND WOMEN’S SCHEDULE

NOVEMBER

1 — Vs. IU Pennsylvania, exhibition, 7 p.m.

11 — Vs. Mount St. Mary’s, 1 p.m.

14 — At Western Kentucky, 8 p.m.

19 — At Oregon State, TBA

24 — Gulf Coast Showcase vs. ETSU in Estero, Fla., 7:30

25 — Gulf Coast Showcase, vs. USF/Washington St. in Estero, Fla., TBA

26 — Gulf Coast Showcase, vs. TBD in Estero, Fla., TBA

29 — At Michigan, 6 p.m.

DECEMBER

3 — At UConn, Jimmy V Classic, 4 p.m.

6 — Vs. Michigan St., 7 p.m.

9 — At Penn, 1 p.m.

17 — Vs. DePaul,1 p.m.

20 — Vs. Marquette, 3 p.m.

28 — Vs. Syracuse, 7 p.m.

31 — At Wake Forest, 1 p.m.

JANUARY

4 — Vs. Miami, 7 p.m.

7 — At Georgia Tech, 2 p.m.

11 — At Louisville, 7 p.m.

14 — Vs. Boston College, 1 p.m.

18 — Vs. Tennessee, 7 p.m.

21 — Vs. Clemson, 1 p.m.

25 — At Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.

28 — At Florida St., 4 p.m.

FEBRUARY

1 — Vs. North Carolina, 7 p.m.

4 — At Duke, 1 p.m.

11 — Vs. Georgia Tech, 1 p.m.

15 — At Virginia, 7 p.m.

18 — At Boston College, 1 p.m.

22 — Vs. Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.

25 — Vs. NC State, 2 p.m.

FEB. 28-MARCH 4

ACC Championship Greensboro, N.C. Greensboro Coliseum

MARCH 16-19

NCAA A 1st & 2nd rounds

MARCH 23-26

NCAA Regional Semis/Finals

MARCH 30-APRIL 1

NCAA Final Four Columbus, Ohio

Notre Dame women's basketball head coach Muffet McGraw and her Irish won't see Purcell Pavilion much during the early part of their road-heavy, 2017-18 schedule. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)