Ir­ish smil­ing: Notre Dame No. 1 in pre­sea­son AP poll

McGraw finds rank­ing ‘odd’ af­ter com­ing off ‘worst’ year; Mary­land is sixth

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Doug Feinberg Bal­ti­more Sun staff and As­so­ci­ated Press re­porter Pat Ea­ton-Robb con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

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

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