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ND Women’s Basketball

Unbridled chaos: Irish awarded top seed in prematurely released bracket

| Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sometimes, life just throws a wrench in your plans. Sometimes, you plan to practice from 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. and then ESPN releases your NCAA tournament bracket 3 hours and 45 minutes early by mistake.

And sometimes, everything goes according to plan.

On Monday, Notre Dame got a little bit of both.

When ESPNU accidentally began leaking the NCAA tournament bracket at 3:15 p.m. Monday, with the live selection show not scheduled until 7 p.m. that evening, chaos ensued. The network announced to the public at 4:54 p.m. that it had moved the live show to 5 p.m. and women’s basketball director of operations Katie Capps sprang into action — running from their respective offices to the court where practice was still taking place and interrupting the whole operation. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw ended the practice on the spot and sent her squad running to the showers to get them upstairs and in front of the television before Notre Dame’s seed and region was announced (officially this time).

“We were right in the middle of practice and of course we didn’t know anything that was going on and our director of ops came in and said ‘They just moved the selection show up, we’re rolling in 10 minutes’ and we needed to stop practicing and kind of revealed the whole bracket to us. It was great news to get,” McGraw said. “Honestly, we lost a lot of practice time today and I’m disappointed. I don’t think we’ll bring them back tonight. We’ll just wait until tomorrow.”

As someone said at some point during the ensuing madness, maybe last year’s “Unleash Chaos” t-shirts would have been more appropriate this season.

And that’s where the expected came into play.

Courtesy of George Bashura

The No. 3 Irish ended up exactly where they were predicted to be: the No. 1 seed in the Chicago region, hosting their first and second rounds at Purcell Pavilion for the sixth-consecutive season.

“The only game we have right now is the first game [against Bethune-Cookman],” senior forward Jessica Shepard said. “We’re not looking ahead to Chicago. We’re excited to be able to play in front of our fans.”

Irish senior guard Marina Mabrey echoed that opinion and is ready to charge headfirst into competition Saturday.

“It feels good, after dropping the ball a couple of times [with three losses], to be able to pick it up and pick up right where we left off,” Mabrey said. “Being a No. 1 seed helps, but all the teams in the tournament are good. We have to stay focused, starting with the first game.”

Notre Dame (30-3, 14-2 ACC) will take on No. 16-seed Bethune-Cookman (21-10, 11-5 MEAC), which earned its place in the tournament by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday, defeating Norfolk State 57-45.

Most of the players admitted they didn’t know where the Wildcats hail from, but when it comes down to it, the whole team knows what really matters is coming out prepared for the game.

“All the teams in the tournament are good but they are first on our minds,” Mabrey said.

Also in Notre Dame’s quadrant of the bracket is second-seeded Stanford, who sent the Irish home from the Lexington regional in the Elite Eight two years ago, and DePaul and Marquette, who sit at the five and six seeds, respectively, both of whom the Irish have defeated already this season.

Also on Notre Dame’s side of the bracket is the Albany region. Sitting atop that region is ACC foe and fellow No. 1 seed Louisville, who the Irish have downed twice this season. What is perhaps causing more intrigue than the Cardinals (29-3, 14-2 ACC), however, is who lurks just beneath them in their region: second-seeded UConn, who was not awarded a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006. The Huskies (31-2, 16-0 AAC) won their conference with ease, but also dropped games to Baylor and Louisville and only played the sixth-toughest schedule in the country, compared to the Irish who played the toughest and the Cardinals, who came in third in RPI.

Across from the Irish on the other side of the bracket sits the Portland region, which is topped by Mississippi State, who Notre Dame took down in the national title game last season. Miami, who defeated the Irish unexpectedly on Feb. 7 in Coral Gables, Florida, sits at No. 4 in the region and another ACC team in Syracuse (who the Irish defeated by 30 on Feb. 25) is the third-seeded team in the region. However, aside from the reigning national runner-up, the biggest name headed to Portland comes from the No. 2 seed — Oregon, who will not have to do much traveling. Led by senior triple-double machine Sabrina Ionescu, the Ducks (29-4, 16-2 Pac-12) top the country in fewest turnovers, sit at sixth in the nation in assists and are third in the country in field goal percentage.

The Portland region also features two former Irish players in junior Oregon forward Erin Boley, who leads the Ducks in 3-pointers, and senior Indiana guard Ali Patberg, who is the Hoosiers’ leading scorer with 16 points per game.

Rounding out the bracket is the Greensboro region. Baylor took the No. 1 seed in North Carolina, which was expected as the Lady Bears (31-1, 18-0 Big 12) also held the No. 1 spot in the nation entering the selection show. The Lady Bears were the first team to down the Huskies this season, as they defeated Geno Auriemma’s squad by 11 points back on Jan. 3. Baylor shares its region with No. 2-seed Iowa and Hawkeyes senior forward Megan Gustafson, who was recently named women’s basketball’s player of the year by ESPN.

Greensboro also features Florida State, who the Irish defeated by 27 points earlier in the season, and North Carolina, who handed the Irish their first conference shocking loss of the year in January.

The Irish will take on Bethune-Cookman on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion at 11 a.m.

The Wildcats are led by senior guard Angel Golden, who is their top scorer, averaging 19.7 points per game and one of their top 3-point shooters at 31.3 percent. She has also posted 51 steals on the season to lead the squad. On the defensive end, senior forward Chasimmie Brown leads the team with 76 offensive boards and 191 defensive rebounds. She also leads the team in blocks with 34.

“The tournament: You win or go home,” Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale said. “That’s all our focus is about. It doesn’t [matter] who’s in front of us. Every game is a championship game because if we lose, our season is over. I think everyone is coming back with that mindset.”

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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