Notre Dame, Louisville lead ACC women’s tourney field
There’s a new defending champion at the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s tournament. The favorite is a familiar one.
The five-day tournament begins Wednesday in Greensboro, North Carolina, with three first-round games. For the first time, it’s Louisville — and not top-seeded Notre Dame — that enters as the reigning champion.
“I’d rather go into the tournament with that target on my back,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “It’s nice going in as a defending champ. But our league is so good that no one is worried about, ‘They’re the defending champs, we’re going to try to beat them.’ You can lose to anyone, any night, if you’re not prepared to play and that’s what we’re stressing with our players.”
The fourth-ranked Fighting Irish (27-3) and No. 3 Cardinals (27-2), the tournament’s second seed, both finished 14-2 in league play. Notre Dame earned its fifth No. 1 seed in six years by virtue of its 82-68 head-to-head victory on Jan. 10.
Despite losing multiple ACC games in a season for the first time since joining the conference, the defending national champion Irish enter the tournament on a six-game winning streak.
“We just have so many weapons on offense, and we’re just starting to peak now,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “I feel like we’re really in a great place heading inot the tournament as the No. 1 seed, exactly where we want to be.”
Some other things to watch this week at the ACC Tournament:
IN THE POLLS
The ACC is the only league with three top-10 teams, with No. 9 North Carolina State joining Notre Dame and Louisville as top-10 teams in the field. The Wolfpack (25-4) are the tournament’s third seed. Other ranked teams in the field include No. 16 Miami (24-7), the fourth seed; No. 18 Syracuse (22-7), the fifth seed; and No. 22 Florida State (22-7), the sixth seed.
It looks like eight ACC schools — the top six seeds plus seventh-seeded Clemson (18-11) and eighth-seeded North Carolina (17-13) — are in reasonably good shape to make the 64-team NCAA Tournament field. But ninth-seeded Georgia Tech (17-12) might need a few victories to play its way into the bracket. The Yellow Jackets will have to tune out some distractions to make that happen, though, with longtime coach MaChelle Joseph being placed on leave last week for “a pending personnel matter” and the coach’s attorney asserting that the move was retaliation for her raising gender-equity concerns.
Looking for a team outside the top 10 to challenge for the title? Miami fits the profile, earning its best seed since it was the No. 2 seed in both 2011 and ’12. The Hurricanes have six victories against Top 25 opponents and were the only team to beat both Louisville and Notre Dame. “I don’t feel like we’re an underdog or, ‘Oh, Miami, what a great story,’” coach Katie Meier said. “We’re good. We are really good.”
It’s been a rough year for Duke, which has its lowest seed at the event — the No. 11 seed. The Blue Devils, who were ranked 21st in the preseason, have lost three point guards to season-ending injuries. Duke (14-14) has not won fewer than 20 games since 1996-97 and must beat 14th-seeded Pittsburgh on Wednesday to avoid its first sub-.500 finish since going 12-15 in 1992-93.