- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - The Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball tournament sure feels like the Notre Dame Invitational.

The second-ranked Fighting Irish (28-1) have won this event every year they’ve played in it, and they’re once again the team to beat when the tournament starts Wednesday.

For the second time in three seasons in the league, coach Muffet McGraw’s team went undefeated in league play while earning its third straight top seed and two-round bye in the five-day tournament.

The Irish have never lost an ACC Tournament game and have only lost one league game since joining the conference, last year at Miami.

McGraw said her seniors - led by graduate student Madison Cable - have been key in helping the Irish establish themselves as the top program in the ACC after going head-to-head with Connecticut while in the Big East from 1995-2013. Notre Dame won only one Big East Tournament, in its final season before that league broke apart.

“They are competitive. They have a sense of urgency,” McGraw said. “They understand what it takes to be at the level we want to be at. They try to get the freshmen to understand that, too. Their leadership this year has really been phenomenal.”

The team with the best chance to beat them figures to be No. 7 Louisville (24-6), the tournament’s No. 2 seed.

The young Cardinals enter the tournament having won 21 of 22 after starting the season 3-5 - with the only loss coming to, naturally, Notre Dame - and coach Jeff Walz traces his team’s success back to the two-a-day practices he held during the semester break.

“I think that really helped a lot of them start to learn more about the game of basketball, and that helped us defensively,” Walz said. “Since then, we’ve really done a tremendous job of guarding, and that’s something if we want to advance in the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament you have to do.”

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Some other things to know about the ACC Tournament:

IN THE POLLS: Notre Dame and Louisville are the only top-10 teams in the field, the second time in three years that just two teams were in the top 10 during the tournament. Fourth-seeded Florida State (23-6), which made its first league tournament final last year, is at No. 14 in the latest poll while third-seeded Syracuse (23-6) is 17th and fifth-seeded Miami (22-7) is 21st.

TOBACCO ROAD BLUES: Duke and North Carolina have combined to win 17 ACC Tournaments but the longtime powers have struggled this season with the Blue Devils (19-11) seeded eighth and the Tar Heels 13th. It’s the lowest seed for North Carolina (14-17) - which must reach the final just to assure itself of a .500 finish - and Duke’s lowest seed since it was the No. 9 in 1993.

AN NC STATEMENT? Sixth-seeded North Carolina State (19-10) might be capable of pulling an upset or two. The two higher seeds in the Wolfpack’s bracket are Syracuse and Louisville - and North Carolina State lost to both by a combined seven points. Four of the Wolfpack’s league losses were by 14 total points.

BAD BOTTOM: It was a bad year for the bottom two seeds: 15th seeded Clemson (4-25) set an ACC record with 25 overall losses and became the first team since Wake Forest in 2006-07 to go winless in ACC play. Boston College (14-15) wasn’t much better in the conference, with its only non-Clemson victory coming against Pittsburgh.

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AP college basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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