After a 2017-18 season that saw Muffet McGraw and the Notre Dame women’s basketball team win their second national championship in school history, all of the pieces are back in place for them to make another title run this year.
With Notre Dame’s postseason coming into action, here are three reasons they can cut down the nets.
The starters are experienced and have great chemistry
The starting five for Muffet McGraw’s team includes junior guard Jackie Young, senior guards Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey, senior forward Jessica Shepard, and graduate student forward Brianna Turner.
Having a lineup that has played together for a long time and been in big moments before pays huge dividends come tournament time when games can be close at the end of the fourth quarter.
Also, the unselfishness that the Irish play with is evident every time they take the floor. In their last three games against Duke, Syracuse, and Virginia, they registered 24, 29, and 28 assists, respectively.
Beyond simply having great team chemistry, the number of assists the team has on a consistent basis shows they are not out for personal statistics but they will do anything and everything to win.
Arike Ogunbowale is Notre Dame’s star and closer when games get tight
Every championship team always needs one player who is not afraid and will not shy away from the big moment. In the case of Ogunbowale, her talent, experience, and a fearless attitude when the Irish need to make a play is the perfect combination for a star player to have.
Last year’s Final Four is a perfect example of her stepping up in the clutch. In their semifinal game versus the Connecticut Huskies, Ogunbowale hit a game-winning jump shot in overtime to seal a 91-89 victory for Notre Dame. Then, in a tie game at the end of regulation facing Mississippi State in the National Championship, Ogunbowale made a three-pointer at the buzzer in what was a thrilling two games for the Irish.
Knowing where to go with the ball in close games is not something all teams have the luxury of. Even if they do know, there are few better players in the country to give the ball to when the clock is winding down than a senior who has done it before on the biggest stage.
Muffet McGraw is one of the best coaches in the country
Aside from having a lot of really good players on their roster, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team is led by one of the best coaches in the country in Muffet McGraw.
McGraw has been the head coach at Notre Dame since the 1987-88 season. Having seen nearly everything on the basketball court during that time allows her to be able to make key adjustments if needed that young coaches might not see.
The experience coaching in big games paired with her understanding of the expectations for her program year in and year out make her the perfect fit for Notre Dame both on and off the court.
Here is one area that could hinder Notre Dame’s National Championship aspirations.
The starters play a lot of minutes and experience off the bench is limited.
Although their starting five is phenomenal, they can only do so much. Not having much experience off of the bench can definitely be a cause for concern if the Irish proceed deep into the NCAA Tournament.
The potential wear and tear that all of the minutes accumulated over the season could have an impact on their starters. Another situation that could hurt Notre Dame’s chances in a game includes foul trouble.
Avoiding situations of fatigue is easier said than done. One way to do it, however, would be to build a big lead early allowing McGraw the option to insert some players off of the bench.
As for avoiding foul trouble, Notre Dame has to play smart and team defense at all times while eliminating silly mistakes.
All in all, if Notre Dame is able to avoid too much fatigue and foul trouble during the course of the NCAA Tournament, look for them to be in the Final Four once again with a shot at winning back-to-back National Championships.
Follow Donald on Twitter (@_donaldkane) for more Notre Dame Basketball News and Opinion