Irish smiling: Notre Dame No. 1 in preseason AP poll
McGraw finds ranking ‘odd’ after coming off ‘worst’ year; Maryland is sixth
It’s been 15 years since Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame were No. 1 in the poll.
The Irish earned the top spot Tuesday in the Associated Press women’s basketball poll, receiving14 first-place votes from a 33-member national media panel to earn the top ranking in the preseason. Notre Dame last held the No. 1 ranking March 5, 2001. McGraw returns most of the core from a team that went 33-2 last season.
She was happy for the compliment, but found the ranking a little high considering her team is coming off one of its most disappointing seasons in a few years and didn’t reach the Final Four for the first time in six years.
“I’d rather we earned it,” McGraw said. “We’re coming off the worst season we’ve had in six years. It seems odd that we’re preseason No. 1. You should have to earn it.”
McGraw has had a bunch of good teams over the last 15 seasons that never reached the top spot. There always seemed to be someone just a little bit better.
“Other teams have had good teams, too. Connecticut has had some pretty good teams in there,” McGraw said. “There was a year when yeah maybe, Stanford beat Connecticut, but then South Carolina went to No. 1.”
Baylor was a close second, four points behind the Irish. The Lady Bears garnered 12 first-place votes.
“Being preseason No. 2 in the country brings great recognition to our school and our program,” Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey said. “We welcome it. We have a schedule — nonconference and conference — that will be most challenging early in the season. It’s one that I think will help us late in the season.”
UConn, which has won 75 consecutive games and four straight national championships, was third. The Huskies had been the No. 1 team for the last 24 weeks.
“I don’t think we should be No. 1,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I don’t think we should be anywhere near the teams that almost went to the Final Four and have everybody back and have all that experience and all that talent. We’ve been in those situations before and we’re not there now. So, wherever they put us, I’m OK.”
South Carolina and Louisville round out the top five teams. Maryland, Ohio State, Texas, UCLA and Mississippi State are next. Exhibition
The Terps were picked to win the Big Ten title by the league’s head coaches and media panel, the conference announced last week. Maryland has won the past two Big Ten regular season and tournament titles since joining the conference in 2014.
Terps coach Brenda Frese and her staff have the nation’s No. 1 freshman class this season: Kaila Charles, Stephanie Jones, Sarah Myers, Destiny Slocum, Jenna Staiti and Blair Watson. All six were named McDonald’s All American nominees last spring and three — Charles, Slocum and Watson — were named McDonald’s All Americans. Redshirt junior Ieshia Small is eligible to play this season after sitting out last year because of NCAA transfer rules. Maryland will host Bluefield State in an exhibition tonight at 6:30. Admission is free, and parking will be free.
The Terps will host Mary Baldwin in a second free exhibition Sunday at 2 p.m. and will begin the regular season with a 1 p.m. matchup with UMass-Lowell on Nov. 13.
Tennessee, which had its run of 565 straight weeks ranked in the Top 25 last season, is back in at No. 13. The Lady Vols have been in each preseason poll except the first one. They are one of four teams not ranked in the final poll that’s in the Top 25 now.
National runner-up Syracuse was 14th, while Final Four participants Washington and Oregon State were 17th and 25th.
The Southeastern Conference leads the way with six teams in the Top 25. The Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference each have five. UConn and 21st-ranked DePaul are the only two schools from non-power five conferences to be ranked.
The first regular-season poll will be Nov. 14, with two big games that night. Baylor hosts UCLA while UConn visits Florida State. Tonight, 6:30
Diamond Stone (Maryland) and the Clippers will face the Thunder tonight