Women’s college basketball has had a few pioneers that have led the charge to bring the sport into the national spotlight. The late Pat Summit was one of those people in her time at the University of Tennessee. Summit led the Tennessee Lady Vols to eight National Championships from 1974-2012.
Her former rival, Geno Auriemma has also been in the women’s college basketball limelight for a very long time. Auriemma is the current face of the sport as the head coach at the University of Connecticut.
There are countless leaders throughout the sport, but Muffet McGraw is at the top of the list with Summit and Auriemma. Muffet McGraw is one of the best college basketball coaches of all time. The culture she instilled at Notre Dame took the program to heights that nobody else had done prior to her arrival.
2020-21 is the first season where McGraw will not be on the Notre Dame bench since 1987. She retired after the 2019-20 season at 65 years of age. McGraw was with the Irish for over three decades so it will be interesting to see what life after the Hall of Famer will look like in South Bend.
Muffet McGraw – One of the Best Coaches of All Time
Muffet McGraw is one of the most notable coaches of all time in the sport of college basketball. She was instrumental in turning Notre Dame into a national powerhouse. McGraw held two head coaching positions in her career. The first was at Lehigh from 1982-1987 and the second was with the Irish from 1987-2020.
In her time as a head coach, she has a collective record of 936-292. This meant McGraw won over 76% of the time as a program leader which is phenomenal. Notre Dame had a solid program before McGraw arrived in 1987, but she changed the entire culture of Irish basketball. The NCAA tournament became the new normal under her tenure. The team expected to win every time they took the court and McGraw’s mentality was the main reason for this transition.
McGraw led the Irish to multiple Big East and ACC Conference titles. The Irish made nine Final Four appearances and won two National Championships in 2001 and 2018 under the 4x AP Coach of the Year. McGraw was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
McGraw called it a career following the 2019-2020 season. She changed the game of basketball forever and left the program at Notre Dame better than when she accepted the job in 1987.
Life After McGraw – What Will the Irish look like Without the Hall of Famer?
Niele Ivey succeeded Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame this season. Ivey has a phenomenal basketball resume. She is a Notre Dame basketball alumnus. In her time as a player, she led the Irish to two Final Four appearances. She also was an assistant under McGraw for thirteen seasons.
As an assistant for the Irish, the team had a record of 386-55. She was on the staff when the team won the National Championship in 2018 and she helped develop Notre Dame greats like Skyler Diggins, Jewell Lloyd, and Arike Ogunbowale.
Ivey has the potential to continue the dynasty that McGraw built in South Bend over her illustrious career.
An Adjustment Period
In McGraw’s final season the Irish went 13-18. This was only the third losing season in her career as the head coach. This shows that Ivey didn’t inherit the most talented team in Notre Dame history. This fact has been evident early in the 2020-21 season.
The team is 3-4 and in 9th place in the ACC. The Irish aren’t even close to a national power this year. The squad is young which is evident with their play on the court in seven games thus far. The team is led by freshman, Maddy Westbeld, who has been a positive sign all season for the Irish.
Westbeld is shooting 46.7% from the field and averaging 17.1 points per game. Her Achilles heel has been her ability to protect the basketball. However, her turnovers are freshman mistakes that will fade away in South Bend as her career progresses.
Is the Future Bright Without Muffet McGraw?
Yes, Notre Dame is in a phenomenal position for the future. Obviously, Niele Ivey is different than Muffet McGraw. However, she was mentored by the Hall of Fame coach as a player and an assistant. Ivey bleeds blue and gold so I doubt she’ll sway from the culture that McGraw built in the Notre Dame locker room.
Notre Dame is loaded with young talent like Maddy Westbeld. The Irish also landed 2021 5-star recruit Olivia Miles and 4-star recruit Sonia Citron in Ivey’s first recruiting class. She has shown the ability to develop young talent into All-American players as an assistant. I believe this will be the case for many of the young stars in the program this year as their time in South Bend progresses.
McGraw built a winning tradition at Notre Dame. This will continue for decades to come and I think Ivey is the perfect leader to make this happen in her time as the head coach of the Irish.
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