Notre Dame women's basketball schedule announced

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame will stay home a bit more, yet also board the bus a bit more, as the Irish embark on defending their NCAA women’s basketball title this season.

ND’s complete regular-season schedule was released Tuesday. It’s a lineup peppered with both familiar powerhouses and new names.

Some of the teams invading Purcell Pavilion in 2018-19 include Iowa — led by reigning NCAA scoring champion Megan Gustafson (25.7) — on Nov. 29, and ND Final Four victim Connecticut on Dec. 2, those matchups coming during the non-league portion of the season, and then Louisville, Florida State and Duke in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

“The thing I’m most excited about is our home-court games for our fans,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve got some really, really good matchups at home.”

Kryptonite-toting Louisville accounted for two of the three losses ND suffered last season, the first one a 100-67 blowout in Louisville, Ky., and the second a 74-72 scramble in the ACC Tournament title game at Greensboro, N.C.

Connecticut pinned the Irish with their only other 2017-18 defeat, that one also a road game for ND.

Both the Huskies and Cardinals wound up in the Final Four, where the Irish eliminated UConn on the first of two Arike Ogunbowale game-winners over three days. Louisville fell in overtime to Mississippi State in the other semifinal, before the Irish edged the Bulldogs in the final.

Last season, Notre Dame had just five non-conference home games. This season, there are seven.

The schedule also sports more Midwest flavor than a year ago, when ND’s only road game not involving a flight was a visit to Michigan.

This time around, the Irish will travel by bus three times, according to McGraw, that being for Saturday games Nov. 17 against DePaul, Dec. 8 at Toledo and Dec. 22 at Marquette — when Ogunbowale heads back to hometown Milwaukee.

Those contests also represent extra chances for ND fans to take shorter trips on their own or perhaps take fan buses, typically offered through the university.

If the season goes as ideally as the Irish envision, the matchup against DePaul will merely be the first of two trips to Chicago’s Wintrust Arena.

Wintrust is also the site of the NCAA Tournament’s easily closest regional next March, the other sites being in North Carolina, New York and Oregon. Last season, ND was shipped to Spokane, Wash., by virtue of being a lower No. 1 seed.

“I’ve heard Wintrust is a beautiful arena,” McGraw said. “The WNBA plays there, so it will be a much better venue than their campus. I think the players will be excited about playing in a professional arena.”

In 2017-18, Notre Dame’s schedule wound up computing as the nation’s most difficult based on how its opponents performed.

The 2018-19 log has a chance to rank similarly high as the Irish again have attempted to load up with challenges, both home and away.

At least nine opponents — No. 4 UConn, No. 5 Louisville, No. 9 Tennessee, No. 14 DePaul, No. 16 North Carolina State, No. 17 Iowa, No. 18 Marquette, No. 20 Duke and No. 23 Syracuse — are ranked in ESPN’s “way-too-early” Top 25, and that figure would jump if ND ends up facing No. 12 Oregon State or No. 15 South Carolina in the Vancouver (B.C.) Showcase over Thanksgiving weekend.

The Irish themselves are No. 1 in those ESPN early ratings.

Notre Dame’s schedule also includes at least 14 teams who made the NCAA Tournament last season, plus up to two more in the Vancouver Showcase.

Homecomings will be a bountiful part of the Irish schedule.

When Lehigh — where McGraw started her collegiate head coaching career in 1982 — makes a first-ever visit to ND on Dec. 30, it’ll be with former Irish starter Ariel Braker as a Mountain Hawk assistant and ex-Penn High School star Camryn Buhr as a key player.

Buhr, a 6-foot-1 guard-forward, averaged 12.5 points and a team-leading 6.8 rebounds for Lehigh (15-15) as a sophomore last season. Braker, who completed her Irish career in 2014, is beginning her second season as a Hawk assistant.

ND’s regular-season opener comes against yet another local product when Harvard visits on Nov. 9. Senior guard Madeline Raster from Saint Joseph High School, has averaged 10.2 points while starting every game and helping the Crimson go 39-20 over the last two years.

The Harvard game — a 4 p.m. start because it comes on a football home weekend — will be just the second-ever meeting between the Crimson and Irish.

Binghamton, which comes to Purcell on Dec. 16, joins Lehigh as first-time ND opponents.

National television exposure will again abound for the Irish. Seven games are scheduled to be on ESPN or ESPN2. The visit to Marquette is pegged for FS1.

While ND’s overall number of home games jumps from 13 to 15, difficult away games remain a component the Irish seek.

“We don’t mind being on the road, because we think it helps prepare us (for the NCAA Tournament),” McGraw said, “and certainly DePaul, Marquette, Tennessee, those were great challenges for us at home last year, so they’re going to be tough road games.”

The Irish will warm up for the regular season when Division II Lewis University of Romeoville, Ill., visits for an exhibition on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The Flyers went 24-8 last season.

Beyond 2018-19

This will be the final season of a 16-game ACC schedule in the women’s game as the 15-school league increases its number of conference games to 18 for each team beginning next season.

McGraw was against growing the league schedule.

“It’s tricky when you have 18 games; it can mess with the seedings for the ACC Tournament,” McGraw said, alluding to the expanded slate making each team’s lineup of games even more dissimilar than it already is.

The coach says ACC officials have discussed dividing the league’s schools into three geographical “pods” of five teams each. Clubs would face each team in their pod twice, and the rest of the teams in the conference once each.

For Notre Dame, that would likely mean two matchups each season with fellow power Louisville. Other teams in ND’s pod could include Boston College, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

As for this coming season, the Irish again have BC and Georgia Tech as their two-game opponents. That’s been the case with BC ever since ND joined the ACC in 2013-14, and the case with Georgia Tech since the following year.

Notre Dame’s Marina Mabrey with the national championship trophy after beating Mississippi State in the NCAA championship in Columbus, Ohio, on April 1.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

OCTOBER

Tuesday 30 LEWIS U., 7 p.m. (exhibition)

NOVEMBER

Friday 9 HARVARD, 4 p.m.; Monday 12 PENN, 7 p.m.; Monday 12 PENN 7; Saturday 17 at DePaul; Thursday-Saturday 22-24 at Vancouver Showcase (Drake, East Tennessee State, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Oregon State, Rutgers, South Carolina, Western Kentucky); Thursday 22 vs. Gonzaga at Vancouver Showcase; Thursday 29 IOWA, 7.

DECEMBER

Sunday 2 CONNECTICUT, 4; Saturday 8 at Toledo, 1; Sunday 16 BINGHAMPTON, 1; Wednesday 19 WESTERN KENTUCKY; Saturday 22 at Marquette, 1:30; Sunday 30 LEHIGH, 1.

JANUARY

Thursday 3 PITTSBURGH, 7; Sunday at Georgia Tech, 3; Thursday LOUISVILLE, 7; Sunday 13 WAKE FOREST, 1; Wednesday 16 at Virginia Tech, 7; Sunday 20 BOSTON COLLEGE, 1; Thursday 24 at Tennessee, 7; Sunday 27 at North Carolina, 2; Thursday 31 at Clemson, 7

FEBRUARY

Sunday, 3 GEORGIA TECH, noon; Thursday 7 at Miami, 7; Sunday 10 FLORIDA STATE, noon; Wednesday 13 at Boston College, 7; Monday 18 at N.C. State, 7; Thursday 21 DUKE, 7; Monday 25 at Syracuse, 6

MARCH

Sunday 3 VIRGINIA, 12:30

Home games in caps; ACC Championship (Greensboro Coliseum): March 6-10;NCAA championship March 22-April 5