Big East schools take top billing at ACC women's tourney
The Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball tournament has a Big East feel to it.
The tournament begins Wednesday in Greensboro, North Carolina, and three of its top five seeds are relative newcomers to the ACC.
Notre Dame (28-2) is the top seed, tournament and regular season defending champion and nation's second-ranked team.
Third-seeded and No. 10 Louisville (24-5) is in its first season in the league while 22nd-ranked Syracuse (21-8) is the No. 5 seed.
Factor in No. 7 Florida State's rise to the second seed, and a tournament once ruled by Duke, North Carolina and Maryland now has an entirely different look.
Those three schools combined to win every tournament from 1999-2013 before Notre Dame won it last season.
A lot has happened in the past year. Maryland left for the Big Ten, and those Tobacco Road powers had down years - at least, compared to their lofty standards. Duke (20-9) slipped to the No. 4 seed - its worst since 1997 - while North Carolina (23-7) is the No. 6 seed for the second straight year.
Five ACC schools cracked the top 10 this season - the most of any league - but for the second straight year, the Fighting Irish are the clear favorite to win this tournament.
Notre Dame has won 34 of 35 regular-season and tournament games against ACC opponents in its two years in the league.
''To (earn the No. 1 seed) again with just one loss ... it really is quite an accomplishment for this young team to come out and play so well all year long, because it is the best league in women's basketball,'' Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.
Some things to know about the ACC women's basketball tournament:
- SURGING SEMINOLES: Florida State has made a quiet, steady rise up the standings and earned its best seed since it was the No. 2 in 2010. The Seminoles (27-3) set a program record for regular-season victories. ''It does not surprise me because of the maturity of the players coming in,'' coach Sue Semrau said. ''I don't think we're nearly as good as we can be.''
- DOWN DUKE: The Blue Devils slipped a bit during a year in which they lost two key players - one (post player Oderah Chidom) to a season-ending shoulder injury and another (guard Sierra Calhoun) to an unexpected transfer. Duke snapped its second three-game losing streak of the season with a win over North Carolina. ''I think it depends how we use it, and I think we're going to use it well,'' coach Joanne P. McCallie said. ''This team know what they can do, and we really want to put together some great 40 minutes.''
- TAR HEEL TOUGHNESS: North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell wants her team to become tougher for tournament time. ''We're going to take boxing lessons,'' she said. ''We're going to go at it, get a little tougher, because we've got to get tougher if we're going to be able to battle inside and hold our own in there.'' The Tar Heels have sputtered at times without key forward Xylina McDaniel, who missed the entire ACC schedule after injuring her leg in December.
- MIAMI VICE: The only ACC team to beat Notre Dame in the past two years was Miami - which knocked off the Irish 78-63 on Jan. 8. The eighth-seeded Hurricanes (18-11) come to Greensboro on the NCAA tournament bubble after losing four straight to end the regular season. They open with ninth-seeded Virginia (17-12) in the second round.
- ORANGE ALERT: Syracuse earned the No. 5 seed for the second straight year. The Orange come to Greensboro having won four straight and six of seven and have spent the entire season in the Top 25.
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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