Bulls, swept at UConn, back on bubble for Clearwater
Since sweeping St. John's and moving above .500 for the first time all season nine days ago, the Bulls have dropped four in a row to fall to 22-25 overall. With six games remaining in the conference season, the Bulls are 11-10 in Big East games, putting them in tenuous position for the top-eight finish needed to play in the Big East tournament in Clearwater in 16 days. USF is just a game and a half up on ninth-place Notre Dame, and the Bulls travel to South Bend this weekend for a key three-game series against the Fighting Irish.
How closely packed is the logjam on the bubble for Clearwater? USF's final two series are against Notre Dame -- just below them -- and home against Pittsburgh, which is 12-9 and a game ahead of USF, Cincinnati and Louisville in fourth place. If the Bulls could take two of three in South Bend, they'd be at least 2 games up on ninth place with three games to play; lose that series and there would be much more pressure on the final weekend.
The good news? USF has tiebreaker advantages against Seton Hall (currently 8th in standings) and Rutgers (currently 10th), so if the Bulls can keep themselves ahead of Notre Dame, they would have an edge on the other two teams that could knock them out of the top eight. And Cincinnati and Louisville, the two teams tied with USF, each have remaining series against first-place Connecticut, which is 18-3 and has a 4.5-game lead on the rest of the league.
A year ago, the Big East standings were forgiving enough to let a 10-17 West Virginia team make it to Clearwater as the last team in -- this year a team with 12 or 13 conference wins could miss the cut. If USF can simply go 3-3 the rest of the way, they're a safe bet to make the cut, and 2-4 could even be enough. Make it to Clearwater and anything can happen from there. ...