SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw believes parity might finally hit women’s basketball after seeing Connecticut win an unprecedented fourth consecutive title last season.
“I think we’ll have a year where maybe we’ll see a different No. 1 every other week like the men had last year, which I thought was really exciting — unless we’re the ones that are not No. 1,” she joked Monday.
The Fighting Irish, like Baylor, Tennessee, Stanford and several other teams, have most of their best players returning. The Huskies lost three-time AP Player of the Year Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson.
McGraw said she’s hoping there is parity.
“I think it’s going to be great for the game,” she said. “This was the year nobody lost a lot of talent except for Connecticut. So I think that really evens things out.”
McGraw, who guided the Irish to a national championship in 2001, believes this year’s Irish team might be the most talented she’s coached. She believes 6-3 forward Brianna Turner (14.6 points, 7.3 rebounds), the Atlantic Coast Conference player and defensive player of the year as the Irish went 33-2 last season, is the nation’s best player and senior Lindsay Allen, who averaged 9.3 points and 5.8 assists, is the best point guard.
Allen has started every game in her three seasons at Notre Dame, leading the Irish to a 106-6 record.
The Irish ended their string of five straight Final Four appearances when they were upset 90-82 by Stanford in a regional semifinal last year, only its second loss in the past three seasons to a team other than Connecticut. Gone from that team are Madison Cable (13.7 points) and Michaela Mabrey (6.8 points), but the Irish add a pair of talented freshmen in Jackie Young and Erin Boley, and get back Ali Patberg, who sat out her freshman year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
Despite being confident in her team, McGraw said she wouldn’t rank the Irish No. 1 to begin the season.
“I would put us in the top five. There are a lot of good teams this time of year,” she said. “We haven’t earned anything. I want to earn it.”