Notebook: No. 2 seed may be better than one for Notre Dame women

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Based on what’s happened since, Notre Dame could be knocked from the No. 1 seed that the NCAA women’s basketball tournament selection committee tentatively awarded the Irish the last time the group shared its collective thinking a little over two weeks ago.

Based on travel, though, Notre Dame fans may welcome the residual that could come with losing that No. 1 seed.

“Yeah, I think that is potentially the case,” Jill Bodensteiner acknowledged Wednesday of the Irish ironically having a better chance to stay closer to home with a 2 seed than a 1 seed.

Bodensteiner, besides being a Notre Dame senior associate athletic director, is part of the 10-member selection committee.

On the eve of leaving to sequester herself with other committee members in an Indianapolis hotel for the next five days and four nights, she shared some insights regarding the committee’s job.

First off, however, don’t get too excited as an Irish fan, or too worked up as a fan of anybody else, over her ND affiliation. In theory at least, you can forget about Bodensteiner’s presence doing anything to assist the Irish during the selection process.

By rule, she will not be allowed to be in the room when Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament worthiness or placement is formally discussed, nor allowed to participate in any ND-related vote.

The Irish appear to be among five teams that will be considered for the four No. 1 seeds when the committee huddles over the next several days, before the official pairings are announced Monday night (7 p.m., ESPN).

In its Feb. 19 non-binding reveal, the committee awarded ND the fourth No. 1 seed and targeted the Irish for a long haul to the Spokane (Wash.) Regional.

Overall No. 1 Connecticut was placed in the Albany (N.Y.) Regional, with overall No. 2 Mississippi State in the Kansas City Regional and overall No. 3 Louisville in the Lexington (Ky.) Regional.

Baylor was slotted No. 5 overall by the committee and penciled in for Lexington.

Since then, Notre Dame (29-3) has lost for a second time to Louisville (32-2) — 74-72 in Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tourney final — Mississippi State (32-1) has fallen 62-51 to South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference final and Baylor (31-1) has largely rolled to the Big 12 Tourney title. UConn (32-0) has remained the nation’s lone unbeaten.

“I will only say we’ve had robust conversations for our reveals, and I expect it to be the same,” Bodensteiner said of how she anticipates the committee will order those presumed top five teams.

UConn is a lock for overall No. 1 by all reasonable accounts.

Louisville would seem a logical No. 2 overall, and a definite top four, by virtue of defeating the Irish again, while previous No. 2 Mississippi State was falling to overall No. 7 South Carolina.

After that, it gets murky.

Baylor the curiosity

In ND’s favor is the nation’s No. 1-rated strength of schedule and the fact that its only losses are to UConn and Louisville, two of those three defeats being competitive.

In Mississippi State’s favor is being perfect all season until that SEC Tourney final against South Carolina, along with the fact that the Bulldogs already beat the Gamecocks 67-53 in an earlier meeting and beat them by a whopping four games in the SEC regular-season standings.

Baylor’s the curiosity. The committee seemed down on the Bears for their somewhat suspect schedule at the time of the last reveal. Then Baylor also lost standout point guard Kristy Wallace to a likely season-ending injury just before the Big 12 Tourney.

The Bears, though, looked unfazed by the setback, with freshman Alexis Morris shining in Wallace’s place.

A late-season “injury to a key player could impact a team’s seed,” the NCAA states on its website.

Thing is, though, Baylor hasn’t looked impacted.

“In my opinion, you don’t just look at an injured player, you look at how (the team’s) playing after the injury,” Bodensteiner said. “Certain teams — Baylor, Notre Dame, others — have responded well.”

Among the various directions given to the selection committee by the NCAA are to place teams as close to campus as possible after their seedings are established.

That’s how ND’s chances of staying closer to home might improve by being bumped to a No. 2 seed, especially with Oregon shaping up as a perfect-fit No. 2 in Spokane.

In the women’s tournament, unlike the men’s, each of the top 16 overall seeds will start play at home. Second-round games will also be at those 16 sites.

The Irish are a certainty to open at Purcell Pavilion based on their overall resume’.

Other teams are in tight battles for a top-16 nod, and still others, of course, in tight battles to even make the 64-team field. Thirty-two spots go automatically to conference tourney champs, while the remaining 32 are at-large. There are 349 teams in NCAA Division I.

“It’s a lot to be charged with,” Bodensteiner said of making the picks. “Each committee member sort of has a different approach, and a lot of what we spend time doing is educating each other.”

Bodensteiner — who starred at Valparaiso High School, but turned down collegiate playing offers in favor of attending Notre Dame, then later coached at Saint Mary’s College — considers herself “more of an eye-test person” in evaluating teams, while “someone else might care more about some of the metrics.”

Committee members — currently made up of eight school administrators and two league administrators — are assigned “primary” and “secondary” conferences to focus on during the season.

Bodensteiner’s primary assignments are the Pac-12, Atlantic Sun and Southwestern Athletic conferences. She has secondary responsibility for the SEC, Ivy, Missouri Valley and Sun Belt.

She estimates that she will have seen about 300 games this season via television or other devices by the time the committee wraps up its work.

As the administrator for Irish women’s basketball, Bodensteiner also has attended all of ND’s own games in person this season. She’s seen a handful of non-Notre Dame games in person.

Bodensteiner is in her second year of what is to be a five-year appointment on the committee.

“There are so many ways that we get information and it was a little overwhelming to me last year,” Bodensteiner said of her rookie effort. “(This year) I got into a better rhythm on how to get all the points of information.” 

RPI valuable

Besides the games, there are plenty of briefings in which committee members receive information from each other and from coaches.

The committee is given 16 areas of criteria to consider by the NCAA in “no specific priority order.” Some of those criteria overlap (significant wins, early competition vs. late competition), some seem a bit vague (ability to elevate, winability) and some are quite specific (head to head, RPI).

RPI, or ratings percentage index, is a calculation giving 50 percent weight to schedule strength, 25 percent to winning percentage and 25 percent to opponents’ schedule strength. It’s perceived by some to carry too much weight.

“It’s a great sorter,” Bodensteiner said of the value of RPI, echoing a sentiment of men’s committee chair Bruce Rasmussen. “For me, it’s a way of saying, here’s one way to look at it, but I look far beyond RPI.”

Bodensteiner says she also keeps an eye on the polls, particularly the coaches’ poll, as a way to monitor whether there are teams she needs to look at harder, although polls are not a formal criterion.

Perhaps the most distinct thing Bodensteiner brings to the committee this year is something that’s a matter of happenstance more than a matter of importance.

Among the eight individuals who are affiliated with specific schools (the other two individuals are an SEC and an Atlantic 10 administrator), she’s the only one from a school likely to have a team in the field. That would change only with an upset in one of the remaining league tourneys.

Bodensteiner says that like last year, she will opt to attend Notre Dame games for as long as the Irish are in the tournament rather than accepting an assignment to represent the committee at another site.

Women’s basketball, after all, is the lone sport Bodensteiner specifically administers at ND.

“I travel with the team, my office is next to (head coach Muffet McGraw’s), and I can’t see spending the entire season on the road with them and then leaving at tournament time,” Bodensteiner said.

Other committee members “may question me about that, (but) in a fun way,” Bodensteiner conceded. “I get a little ribbing occasionally.”

What is no joking matter is the number of hours and level of commitment necessary to be on the committee. Members, who also must attend to full-time jobs, do so out of love for the game, according to Bodensteiner.

The ultimate goal, Bodensteiner said, is to get it right, because “the student-athletes and coaches who work their butts off deserve it.”

Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale (24) celebrates after teammate Marina Mabrey (3) scored a 3-pointer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won 84-70. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw may not have been the Coach of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but USA Today Wednesday named her the best coach in the country.

McGraw guided her seven healthy scholarship players to a 29-3 record against the nation’s No. 1 rated strength of schedule.

The Irish went 15-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and claimed at least a share of their fifth consecutive ACC regular season title. The Irish also went to their ninth consecutive conference tournament title game, losing to Louisville in the ACC final.

Louisville’s Jeff Walz was named league Coach of the Year.

• NCAA Tourney dates: First and second rounds — March 16-19. Regionals — March 23-26. Final Four — March 30, April 1, Columbus, Ohio.

• RPI top 16 through Tuesday: 1. Connecticut (32-0). 2. Notre Dame (29-3). 3. Louisville (32-2). 4. Baylor (31-1). 5. Mississippi State (31-1). 6. Ohio State (27-6). 7. Oregon (30-4). 8. Florida State (25-6). 9. Tennessee (24-7). 10. UCLA (24-7). 11. South Carolina (26-6). 12. Texas (26-6). 13. Stanford (22-10). 14. South Florida (26-7). 15. Texas A&M (24-9). 16. North Carolina State (24-8).

• Committee’s Feb. 19 top 16: 1. Connecticut (Albany Regional). 2. Mississippi State (Kansas City). 3. Louisville (Lexington), 4. Notre Dame (Spokane). 5. Baylor (Lexington). 6. Oregon (Spokane). 7. South Carolina (Albany). 8. Texas (KC). 9. Florida State (Albany). 10. UCLA (KC). 11. Missouri (Spokane). 12. Tennessee (Lexington). 13. Ohio State (Lexington). 14. Maryland (KC). 15. Georgia (Spokane). 16. Stanford (Albany).

• NCAA’s selection criteria: Ability to elevate; availability of talent; bad losses; common opponents, competitive in losses; conference record; early competition vs. late competition; head to head; non-conference; overall record; regional rankings; relative strength of schedule; RPI, significant wins; strength of conference; winability.