Irish smiling: Notre Dame No. 1 in preseason AP women’s poll

FILE - In this photo from Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw gestures during the third quarter of Notre Dame's win over Boston College in an NCAA college basketball game in Boston. (AP File Photo/Elise Amendola)
FILE - In this photo from Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw gestures during the third quarter of Notre Dame's win over Boston College in an NCAA college basketball game in Boston. (AP File Photo/Elise Amendola)

It’s been 15 years since Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame were No. 1 in the poll.

The Irish earned the top spot in The Associated Press women’s basketball Tuesday, receiving 14 first-place votes from a 33-member national media panel to earn the top ranking in the preseason. Notre Dame last held the No. 1 ranking on March 5, 2001. McGraw returns most of the core from a team that went 33-2 last season.

She was happy for the compliment, but found the ranking a little high considering her team is coming off one of its most disappointing seasons in a few years and didn’t reach the Final Four for the first time in six years.

“I’d rather we earned it,” McGraw said. “We’re coming off the worst season we’ve had in six years, it seems odd that we’re preseason No. 1. You should have to earn it.”

McGraw has had a bunch of very good teams over the last 15 seasons that never reached the top spot. There always seemed to be someone just a little bit better.

“Other teams have had good teams, too. Connecticut has had some pretty good teams in there,” McGraw said. “There was a year when yeah maybe, Stanford beat Connecticut, but then South Carolina went to No. 1.”

Baylor was a close second, four points behind the Irish. The Lady Bears garnered 12 first-place votes.

“Being preseason No. 2 in the country brings great recognition to our school and our program,” Lady Bears coach Kim Mulkey said. “We welcome it. We have a schedule, nonconference and conference, that will be most challenging early in the season. It’s one that I think will help us late in the season.”

UConn, which has won 75 consecutive games and four straight national championships, was third. The Huskies had been the No. 1 team for the last 24 weeks.

“I don’t think we should be No. 1,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I don’t think we should be anywhere near the teams that almost went to the Final Four and have everybody back and have all that experience and all that talent. We’ve been in those situations before and we’re not there now. So, wherever they put us, I’m OK.”

South Carolina and Louisville round out the top five teams. Maryland, Ohio State, Texas, UCLA and Mississippi State are next.

Tennessee, which had its run of 565 straight weeks ranked in the Top 25 end last season, is back in at No. 13. The Lady Vols have been in each preseason poll except the first one. They are one of four teams not ranked in the final poll that’s in the Top 25 now.

National runner-up Syracuse was 14th, while Final Four participants Washington and Oregon State were 17th and 25th.

The Southeastern Conference leads the way with six teams in the top 25. The Pac-12 and ACC each have five. UConn and 21st-ranked DePaul are the only two schools from non-power five conferences to be ranked.

The first regular-season poll will be Monday, Nov. 14, with two big games that night. Baylor hosts UCLA while UConn visits Florida State.

Here are a few other poll tidbits:

IT’S BEEN A WHILE: Missouri is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1984. The Tigers reached the NCAAs for the first time in a decade and return star Sophia Cunningham. Unfortunately they already lost second-leading scorer and top rebounder Jordan Frericks and reserve Bri Porter for the season with knee injuries.

MISSING TRIANGLE: Duke is not ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1994-95. The Blue Devils aren’t the only member of Tobacco Road absent from the poll. North Carolina and North Carolina State both aren’t ranked either marking only the second time in the 41-year history of the poll that none of the three are in the preseason rankings. It also happened in 1986.

HOOSIER HYSTERIA: Indiana is ranked for only the third time in the program’s history. The No. 23 Hoosiers are coming into the season after equaling a school record with 21 victories and winning the team’s first NCAA game. Indiana is led by junior Tyra Buss, who averaged 18.8 points last season.

AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this story from Storrs, Connecticut