Second loss to UConn could leave ND as fifth seed
Notre Dame will get a second crack at top-ranked Connecticut on Monday. It could prove costly.
The Fighting Irish (25-3, 12-3 Big East) will become the first team to face the unbeaten Huskies (29-0, 15-0) twice this season. And a loss could cause them to be seeded fifth in the Big East tournament unless they can stop the Huskies' winning streak at 68 games.
So instead of getting a double bye in the Big East tournament as a top-four finisher, the Irish might single bye if they lose a tiebreaker with No. 18 St. John's (23-5, 11-4). The Red Storm has played last-place Seton Hall twice.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw doesn't think that's fair.
``It is a disadvantage and I think it impacts one or two teams every year, depending on who their common opponent is,'' she said. ``When you look at the standings and look at the difference in getting a bye or a double bye, it's very important.''
Other coaches aren't sympathetic, though, pointing out that Notre Dame got the second game against the Huskies because of high preseason expectations for the Irish.
``I guess that's the price you pay for being good,'' Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said.
The Big East has had a 16-game league season since expanding to 16 teams in the 2005-06 season, meaning each team had to play an extra game against one opponent.
Big East associate commissioner Donna DeMarco said coaches have talked about switching to a 15-game season with no repeat opponents. The problem with that is that it would give half the teams eight home games and the other half seven home games. There is no interest among coaches to add more league games, like the three repeat opponents the men play, DeMarco said.
She said the league decides which teams face each other twice based on a number of factors, but one of the biggest factors is trying to get matchups that draw TV interest. The two games matching UConn and Notre Dame accomplished that because at the first matchup in January, ESPN brought its ``College Gameday'' show to Storrs, Conn., broadcasting at the site of a women's basketball game for the first time. The game Monday night will be on ESPN2.
``I think it's great for the world to see great women's basketball,'' St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said. ``The top teams in our conference always finish off against each other. That's how it works.''
McGraw acknowledges the Irish could have avoided the problem if not for losing consecutive games at St. John's and at No. 13 Georgetown (24-5, 12-3) while standout Lindsay Schrader was out with a sprained ankle.
``We shot ourselves in the foot,'' she said.
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, whose team faced UConn twice the past four seasons, said that although the system might not be fair, she believes it's good to try match the top teams to promote the league.
``We didn't mind playing them because the fans always enjoyed it and we did too because I knew that UConn would bring out the best in whoever they played,'' she said. ``I enjoyed having an opportunity to see how tough we would be.''