Dancing? Where will USF women be tonight?
The official word should come just after 7 tonight on ESPN, but I've spent entirely too much time crunching numbers, comparing teams all over women's college basketball, poring over RPIs and strength-of-schedules and all the minutiae the NCAA selection committee has been using to determine its field of 64.
This is just one reporter's projection, but when I do the math, I see USF comfortably in the NCAA field, as a No. 10 seed, ahead of four other at-large teams that will make the NCAA cut. Who would the Bulls face in the opening round? I projected my own field last night, and the No. 7 seeds were Florida, DePaul, Texas and Virginia. They won't line up with a Big East rival, so my best guess is Florida or Virginia, with the toughest 10-seed draw being what Jerry Palm is projecting at CollegeRPI.com: Facing LSU in Baton Rouge.
How did I arrive at USF being better than four other at-large teams in the NCAA field? I filled in the 20 worst automatic bids into the bottom of the bracket, then seeded what I thought were the top 34 teams, leaving 10 spots for the final 10 at-large berths. For these 10 spots, I initially considered 23 teams, including 16 from the major conferences and seven from smaller leagues. (The RPI ratings listed are from CollegeRPI.com, by the way).
I made the easiest cuts first, dropping Wisconsin, Marquette, USC and UCLA, all of which had 19 or fewer wins and RPIs of 58 or lower. I also dropped Illinois State and James Madison, who had RPIs below 50 and only one win against a top-50 opponent. That cut the list to 17, and I awarded three at-large bids, to Georgia Tech, Villanova and Iowa, which I felt had solid arguments to be in the field. Now I had 14 teams competing for seven spots, ranked here in my initial order:
School Record RPI top 50 top 100
Mississippi State 22-9 41 4-7 8-9
USF 22-10 45 5-6 9-10
Michigan State 20-10 51 4-4 7-10
Minnesota 19-11 54 5-8 7-9
Boston College 20-11 40 2-8 3-11
San Diego State 23-7 38 3-5 7-5
TCU 20-10 32 4-4 7-9
Georgia 18-13 53 4-10 9-11
Indiana 19-10 55 3-7 7-8
Kansas 18-13 56 3-8 8-11
Texas Tech 16-15 50 2-11 6-15
VCU 26-6 32 0-2 5-5
Bowling Green 28-3 44 0-1 4-1
Richmond 23-9 43 1-5 9-7
I also looked at quality wins -- Mississippi State beat LSU twice and SEC champ Vandy once, so they were the first team I added to the bracket. Michigan State had three top-25 wins (Ohio State, and Purdue twice) and they're hosting this weekend in Lansing, so I put them in, just barely ahead of USF.
From there, the Bulls had more wins than any major-conference team, and had a higher RPI than all the big-league schools except Boston College. Look at the record against top-100 teams, and USF is 9-10 while Boston College is 3-11 -- that seemed too glaring a difference, so I filled the Bulls in as a No. 10 seed.
In filling the last four spots, the committee is torn between small-league powers who piled up wins but didn't face much tournament-caliber competition, and the opposite from the major conferences. I eliminated Kansas and Texas Tech, who went 6-10 in the Big 12 and lost early in the league tournament.
Despite gaudy wins, I opted against VCU (26-6) and Bowling Green (28-3) because they simply didn't beat anyone, and lost to lesser teams in their conference tournaments. VCU's highest-rated win was against James Madison (RPI 57), and Bowling Green's was against No. 48 Ball State, who beat them in the MAC title game. Same fate for Richmond (23-7), whose best win was against VCU and missed an easy chance in the Atlantic-10 final. Next to go was Indiana, which went 3-7 against top-50 teams, with no wins higher than No. 25 Purdue, and went 4-6 down the stretch.
That left five teams for four spots: Minnesota, Boston College, San Diego State, TCU and Georgia. I felt like San Diego State and TCU were some of the few teams that finished strong, going 8-2 and 7-3 in their last 10. SDSU beat Texas (RPI 18) and TCU beat Maryland (RPI 3), so they'd proven themselves against NCAA teams from major conferences. I'd eliminated small-league teams who hadn't played anyone, but these two teams had scheduled tough teams and gotten wins from those games.
That left Minnesota, Georgia and BC. Georgia had three quality wins -- Auburn (7), Florida (22) and Vandy (27) -- and went 9-11 against top 100 teams. I felt like that was enough to offset a 4-6 finish and put them in. Minnesota vs. BC? I was unimpressed with BC's 3-11 record against the top 100, with just one win in the top 40 -- that and a 3-7 mark in the last 10 made them my final cut and put Minnesota in.
So there you have my best guess. To play "Clue" for a sec, I'm going to say USF is a No. 10 seed, facing Virginia, in Lubbock, Texas. I might get all three wrong, but it's a well-informed guess, as they say ...