All season, the Atlantic Coast Conference has been one of the country’s best. The reward should come Monday.
The league has a strong chance to place eight teams in the women’s NCAA field for the third time in four years.
“I’m expecting this league to win some ballgames in the NCAA Tournament,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said last weekend at the conference tournament in Conway, South Carolina. “We have some great players, very well coached, and it’s been fun. It makes it fun as a coach, and I think it makes it fun as a player. That’s why they come here, to play against the best.”
Seven teams are virtual locks to make the field of 64, which will be revealed Monday night. Notre Dame, Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, N.C. State and Syracuse have spent nearly every week ranked since December.
Virginia would be the eighth team. The Cavaliers have a quality win over the Seminoles and made it to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Coach Joanne Boyle starts three freshmen and the team has been getting better each week.
“I feel like we’ve been in every game, overtime with Louisville, Syracuse, beat Florida State late,” Boyle said. “We’re a young team. They’re just getting their wheels underneath them. I feel like we’re playing some of our best basketball.”
Her team has gotten the respect of the league’s coaches. Miami’s Katie Meier thinks the Cavaliers will not only make the NCAAs but possibly advance to the round of 16.
“That’s how good I think this conference is,” she said. “And I’m not just saying that because Joanne is a friend of mine. I watch UVA and I’m like, oh, my God.”
It seems commonplace of late for a conference to have eight teams in the tournament. Since 1999, there have been eight or more teams from a league 13 times. The SEC had nine teams in the field last season.
The ACC, which had the second-best nonconference win percentage behind only the Pac-12, put in eight in 2014 and 2015. The conference has also had one of its current members play for the national championship in seven of the past eight seasons, including Syracuse last year.
“We’re in the best conference in the country, and it really prepares you for anything you’re going to see in the NCAA Tournament,” Orange coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We have every style of play in this conference, so it really does prepare you for the NCAA Tournament.”
Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame have won the conference regular-season and tournament crowns every season since joining the ACC in 2013. The Irish were the national preseason No. 1 team before losing early on. Conference play started this season with a loss to North Carolina State before the Irish regrouped to win every other ACC game.
“Each year has gotten more challenging,” McGraw said. “There are a lot of really good teams in this league and there are no real nights off.”