SOUTH BEND | There is a "Halloween" feel to what Muffet McGraw is conjuring up in her laboratory.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Notre Dame women's basketball coach is creating a monster to roam the NCAA and strike fear in opponents.
Tennessee. U-Conn. Baylor. Texas A&M. Stanford. Monsters already on the loose.
Better light another torch in the night, all you skittish town folk. Notre Dame is now doing its version of the Monster Mash.
"I think we've gotten our program to that point with back-to-back trips to the Final Four," McGraw said.
The last two seasons, the Irish were NCAA National runners-up to Texas A&M and Baylor, going a combined 66-12 during that stretch.
McGraw has led them to Final Fours in 1997, 2001, 2011 and 2012 -- winning it all against Purdue in 2001.
Her teams have made the Sweet Sixteen six of the last 11 seasons.
She's won 20 or more games 18 of the last 19 seasons while the Irish hold their own in the testy Big East.
"We don't want to lower our expectations. We want to rise to the challenge," McGraw said, knowing she'll have to do it with only two starters returning.
"But anytime you have a Skylar Diggins, you can't be counted out."
A killer schedule does Notre Dame no favors, opening against Ohio State Nov. 9 and facing Baylor in a Dec. 5 rematch McGraw circled several times on the calendar.
No sir, her Irish haven't forgotten that 80-61 thumping.
"We have not and for a lot of reasons -- not the least of which is what happened after and what came out after," McGraw said. "It really made it harder to swallow."
Last April, the Baylor men's and women's programs were severely penalized by the NCAA for numerous recruiting violations, just weeks after coach Kim Mulkey's Lady Bears became the first women's team to finish 40-0.
They kept the championship trophy while the Irish learned a valuable life lesson: Hardware loses its shine, a program's integrity and honesty last forever.
That Baylor game is history now and the Irish will move forward with a roster featuring only two seniors -- Diggins and Marian Catholic grad Kaila Turner -- three sophomores and three freshmen.
"I think we're going to take our lumps early," McGraw said. "When you have freshmen who are going to be playing a lot of time, we're going to be up and down.
"Once we get consistency, that's when we're going to be able to make our run."
That's quite a switch in mindsets from the two previous seasons when her talented teams were almost on auto pilot with key seniors at the wheel.
"It'll be a test of my patience. I'll call a lot more timeouts," McGraw said, smiling.
But this is Muffet McGraw working her magic in the lab, so maybe there will be another run deep into the postseason.
"We've definitely improved every year and have gotten more confident in our abilities," Turner said. "I think we've really shocked people over the last couple of years."
That's a fun fact any monster would be proud of.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at email@example.com.