Notre Dame looks like a lock

Despite a shaky December, in which Notre Dame lost to Connecticut by 10, survived a 95-90 shootout with DePaul, and lost junior post player Taya Reimer for the season, Notre Dame is back on track and looks like a lock to get a number-one seed in the NCAA tournament come March. Fans are hoping the brackets are arranged so that the Irish will have a chance to avenge last year’s loss to  Connecticut in the championship game of the 2015 Final Four in Tampa. (If Baylor, South Carolina, Maryland, and Texas don’t

Notre Dame Coach Muffit McGraw

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw

interfere).

The Irish, led by sophomore Brianna Turner and fifth-year senior Madison Cable, have beaten opponents by an average of 20 points per game. They lead the nation in three-point shooting percentage (42.6%) (even though they were only 2-16 from beyond the arc against Georgia Tech last week).

You’ve got to hand it to Muffet McGraw, who looked downright shell-shocked last April when she was interviewed about losing her veteran junior guard Jewell Lloyd. Lloyd declared early for the WNBA draft — a smart move that made her the number one pick, something she wouldn’t have been if she’d been in the same recruiting class with Brianna Stewart next year.  Lloyd went on to score 10 points a game for the Seattle Storm in her rookie season and was named WNBA Rookie of the Year for 2015. She’s scoring 15 points a game overseas for Galatasaray, a Turkish team in the Euro League.

McGraw was honest and outspoken about the fact that she thought it was a mistake for Lloyd to give up her college degree for a professional career. She also must have wondered during that offseason how she’d get the Irish back to elite status without Lloyd. The Irish were a work in progress for the first month of the season. Turner, who was the Full Court Press Freshman of the Year in 2015 and made the Final Four all-tournament team last year, missed time with a shoulder injury. Then the 6-4 Reimer left the team, presumably because of lingering Achilles tendon issues (officially, she left for personal reasons, but retained her scholarship).

But in January, Cable, who had been cleared to play a fifth season in April (she missed her freshman year because of injuries), has stepped up, Turner has come back strong from her injury, and the Mabrey sisters, freshman Marina and senior Michaela, have combined with Cable to go bonkers from three-point land.  The Irish now are 20-1 and ranked #3 in the country. Lock-down defense and three-point excellence has been their hallmark, spurred by the continued maturity of the 6-3 Turner, who is leading the Irish in scoring

Notre Dame has a handful of tough games coming up with #14 Louisville, #11 Florida State, and a late-season ACC matchup with #17 Miami. Still, it’s looking  more and more like the Irish have navigated their troubled waters on their way back to elite status in women’s basketball.

This is the second in a weekly series looking at the contenders among NCAA Division I   women’s basketball teams at midseason

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