For the sixth year in a row, head coach Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame basketball team has earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Ranked No. 2 overall in the final regular season Associated Press poll behind four-year reigning champion Connecticut (32-0), the 30-3 Fighting Irish — who won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles each of the past four seasons — will host 22-10 Robert Morris on Friday night (St. Patrick’s Day) at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2). Preceding it at the Purcell Pavilion will be a matchup between No. 8-seed Green Bay and No. 9-seed Purdue.
The winners on Friday night will play in the round of 32 on Sunday at a time to be determined.
Notre Dame also opened versus Robert Morris in the first round back in 2014 and cruised to a 93-42 victory to improve to 33-0.
The Irish have been placed in the 16-team Lexington Region, where the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 matchups will be held March 24-26. The Region overall has a lot of familiarity:
• No. 2 seed Stanford, which won the Pac-12 Tournament, upset Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 last season, 90-84, snapping a 26-game Irish winning streak. That game likewise was played in Lexington, Ky. A year earlier, the two played at Oklahoma City in the Sweet 16, with Notre Dame posting an 81-60 conquest. (Stanford is the most recent team to defeat UConn, which owns an NCAA record 107-game winning streak.)
• No. 4 Kentucky would have a chance to play Notre Dame on its home court should both advance to the Sweet 16.
However, the Wildcats might first have to get past No. 5-seed Ohio State, coached by Kevin McGuff, who was an assistant coach at Notre Dame for McGraw from 1996-2002, highlighted by the 1997 Final Four and 2001 national title.
• No. 8-seed Green Bay gave Notre Dame a good battle on Nov. 17 before losing 71-67. No. 9-seed Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp will have a homecoming because she starred at nearby Mishawaka (Ind.) High, where she was Indiana's Miss Basketball in 1984. The Irish defeated the Boilermakers in the 2001 national title game 68-66.
Notre Dame sports a 14-game winning streak that has been spearheaded by senior point guard Lindsay Allen and junior forward Brianna Turner, both of whom were named as one of 15 finalists for the John R. Wooden National Player of the Year Award. Allen also is one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award that is presented to the nation’s top point guard.
Turner led the team in scoring (15.6 points per game), rebounding (7.2) and blocked shots (81) while earning ACC Defensive Player of The Year honors a second straight year.
The consummate facilitator, Allen is fourth nationally in assists per game (7.64) and assist-to-turnover ratio while also averaging 9.2 points. Despite her 5-8 height, she also is second on the team in rebounds per game (5.2). Allen, whose 77 steals is another team high, is the all-time leader in assists (811) at Notre Dame and the ACC.
Sophomores Arike Ogunbowale (15.1 ppg) and Marina Mabrey (14.2 pppg) have combined for 121 three-pointers at an impressive 45-percent clip, but their improved defense has especially upgraded the overall team.
Junior forward Kathryn Westbeld (8.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game) has battled an ankle injury since mid-January but is the glue figure in the attack, especially with her high post passing that has upgraded the flow of the offense in the second half of the year.
Freshmen Jackie Young (7.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game) at guard and Erin Boley (6.2 points and 2.6 rebounds) at forward both began blossoming and getting comfortable with their roles at the end of the season.
The Irish closed the regular season with an impressive 79-61 win versus Florida State, which finished No. 10 in the AP. Then in the ACC Tournament they roared past Virginia (76-59), now No. 13 Louisville (84-73) and now No. 9 Duke (84-61), the second seed in the Bridgeport Region that features UConn. After the Blue Devils closed within 43-41, the Irish detonated with a jaw-dropping 41-20 run.
“We’re really playing with a lot of confidence,” McGraw said. “It comes from the top — Lindsay Allen is playing really great basketball. But you look at our sophomores, Arike and Marina are really coming along.
“We’re been in some real battles, and I think it’s helped us. The two losses that we had, especially the Tennessee game (Jan. 16), made us better. We learned a lot from that game and have really moved forward since then.
“I thought that stretch in the Duke game was about the best we’ve played ever. … I’m really pleased with where we’re at. I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
• Talk about it inside Rockne's Roundtable
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue & Gold Illustrated.
• Like us on Facebook