Moving on to NIT: Bulls should host, right?
Wednesday's loss to Georgetown has ended any reasonable talk of USF playing in the NCAA Tournament, so now we can turn to something that has an impressive, even alarming level of research and speculation: Projecting the NIT field.
It's been a while since USF has been in the NIT, so a quick briefing: 32 teams that didn't make the NCAAs, seeded just like the NCAAs from 1s to 8s, with the first three rounds on the higher seed's campus, then the final two rounds right back here at Madison Square Garden.
Would USF host one or more NIT games? It's hard to tell at this point. Two sites devoted to NIT bracketing seem to think so -- NIT-ology.com had them as a No. 1 seed before Wednesday's loss, which would mean hosting a team out of the RPI 100, a team like Jacksonville. (To compare other Big East teams, that model had Connecticut as a No. 2 seed, with Cincinnati and St. John's as No. 4s; Seton Hall might have joined the field with Wednesday's loss to Notre Dame).
Another fun site, The Bracket Project, has USF as a No. 3 seed in a model updated Wednesday. They had USF hosting Portland, then facing the winner of Mississippi State-Arizona. They have UConn and Cincy as No. 3 seeds and St. John's as a No. 4, with Seton Hall as a No. 1.
Looking at last year's field and comparing it to final RPIs, you rely on RPI rankings even less in the NIT than in the NCAAs. USF's RPI right now is 66, and probably will only drop a few losing to a high-rated team like Georgetown. Only four teams with lower RPIs hosted opening-round NIT games last year, but six teams with higher RPIs were sent on the road. As you can see, it's hard to get a real feel for.
It's not like only major-conference teams get the higher seeds, either. Georgetown, Nebraska, Washington State, Miami and Northwestern all opened the NIT on the road last year, for instance. Kentucky traveled to Creighton, for instance, in the second round.
If you could make up a list of teams "snubbed" by the NCAA selection committee, that's a good starting point for the top seeds in the NIT, since the NCAA runs both tournaments and seeds using the same criteria. If you use ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi as an example, he identifies the top eight teams missing the NCAA cut, then has USF in the next group of four, which would logically translate to a No. 3 seed if the selection committee shared Lunardi's views.
This story from SI.com picked 10 snubs last year, and nine of those teams were seeded No. 3 or higher in the NIT -- Providence was the lone exception, seeded fifth. The Friars would have opened the NIT on the road, but Miami's arena was booked, so Providence got to host.
Last year's Providence team is actually very comparable to this year's USF squad -- the Friars went 19-13, with a 10-8 Big East record and five wins against top 100 teams. (USF is 20-12, went 9-9 and beat six top-100s).
So while you could see another Florida team facing the Bulls, it would have to be one that matches the bracket's pairings -- if you presume, for instance, that USF is a No. 3 or 4 seed, they'd only play a No. 5 or 6 seed in the first round, so it probably wouldn't be Jacksonville (who is too low) or Florida (which would be too high, if they missed the NCAA cut at all). Miami would make the most sense of the NIT-range Florida options. You'd think the NIT folks would set up the bracket so conference teams don't play each other right away, no easy task since as many as five Big East teams could be in the field.
And don't forget -- hosting is an important advantage in the NIT -- home teams went 13-3 in last year's first round. Enough NIT speculation for now -- we've got until Sunday to sort this stuff out ...