There’s a different look to the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s tournament this year.
The tournament begins Wednesday with three first-round games, and for the first time since the league’s expansion to 15 schools, the top seed doesn’t belong to Notre Dame. Instead, that honor goes to fourth-ranked Louisville.
Meanwhile the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish hold the second seed and will have to advance through the other half of the bracket.
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The Cardinals (29-2) and the Irish (27-2) were clearly the league’s top two teams this season. While they shared the regular-season championship , Louisville earned the top seed because it won the only head-to-head matchup 100-67 on Jan. 11. The only thing that kept the Cardinals from the outright league title was a one-point loss to Florida State 10 days later.
”Going into the ACC Tournament, we’re going to see the same teams again,” Louisville senior Myisha Hines-Allen said. ”So we just want that same celebration, so we have to keep playing hard.”
Notre Dame has won all four of the ACC Tournaments in which it has appeared, and has yet to lose a league tournament game in its new conference. The Irish, who have won 12 straight games, have earned at least a share of its seventh straight conference title – five in the ACC, two in the Big East – despite a roster ravaged by injuries.
”They handled the adversity and that’s the kind of thing that we want to teach them,” coach Muffet McGraw said. ”I couldn’t be prouder of any team. This is definitely the most rewarding championship I think we’ve had.”
Some other things to watch this week at the ACC women’s tournament:
IN THE POLLS: Notre Dame and Louisville are the only top-10 teams in the field, the third time in five years that just two teams were in the top 10 during the tournament. Third-seeded Florida State (24-5) checks in at No. 11 in the latest poll, fourth-seeded Duke (22-7) is 18th and fifth-seeded North Carolina State (22-7) is at No. 23.
LONGSHOT: Looking for an off-the-radar pick to bust the bracket? Maybe eighth-seeded Syracuse could pull an upset or two. The Orange (22-7) enter on a five-game winning streak and their high-pressure style could be tough to handle with only one day to prepare. They’re in Louisville’s half of the bracket and were competitive against the Cardinals in the regular season, losing 84-77 on Feb. 4.
NO BUBBLE TROUBLE: The NCAA Tournament picture seems pretty clear for the ACC, which looks like it will place eight teams in the 64-team bracket. And three of them – Louisville, Notre Dame and Florida State – seem like locks for top-four seeds, meaning they would host four-team NCAA subregionals . So the big question is whether another ACC team – either Duke or N.C. State – will make it four NCAA hosts from the conference.
BACK HOME: The tournament has returned to Greensboro after it was held in Conway, South Carolina, last year amid the conference’s public stance against the since-partially repealed ”bathroom bill” in North Carolina.