USF basketball fans: Here's what to root for
You've asked, so we're offering up the official programming guide to What Bulls Fans Should Root For in the week ahead. As we've said, any real talk of USF making the NCAA Tournament must start with the Bulls winning at least their first two games in the Big East tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday, against DePaul and Georgetown, respectively.
Lose before then, all of this is moot. Win after Wednesday, and the Bulls may have punched their ticket. Here are other things that would help the Bulls' cause -- USF (19-11, 9-9, RPI 63) wouldn't need quite all this chaos to break out, but each little bit would improve the Bulls' chances:
Tonight, 7: These early lower-tier tournaments are all about top seeds winning, so here in the Colonial, Bulls fans are rooting for Old Dominion (25-8, RPI 33) to beat William & Mary. Could the Monarchs get in as an at-large here with a close loss? Perhaps not, but USF needs this to be a one-bid league, and an ODU win clinches that.
Tonight, 9: Gonzaga (25-5, RPI 34) has done enough to get in as an at-large, so USF needs a Zags win (preferably a convincing one) here against St. Mary's (24-5, RPI 43). The Gaels might not have a win against a team in the NCAA field -- their best wins are against San Diego State and Utah State, which also have RPIs in the 30s.
Tuesday, 7 p.m.: The sooner Seton Hall (18-11, RPI 55) exits, the easier it is for USF to move ahead of the Pirates for a potential ninth Big East berth in the NCAAs. So losing here to Providence (the two teams just played Saturday, with Seton Hall getting a 92-80 road win) would help out the Bulls. I don't know that an opening-game loss would knock Notre Dame (21-10, RPI 59) or Marquette (20-10, RPI 58) out of the NCAA hunt, despite low RPIs.
Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.: Butler (27-4, RPI 17) is in for sure, but USF needs the Bulldogs to take an automatic berth, which means winning the Horizon final against Wright State. Butler won both regular-season meetings by double digits, so this should fall the Bulls' way in Indianapolis.
Wednesday, noon: Again, USF needs to get a second win against Georgetown, which would give the Bulls three wins against RPI top 20 teams. Another day of conversation about the Bulls during the Big East games would help soften resistance to the league getting a ninth team in.
Thursday, noon: Bulls would play top-seeded Syracuse here. A win would be huge for USF's chances, but the Big East's double-bye is just nasty to the Bulls, who would be playing their third game in 48 hours, against an Orange team with five days of rest.
Thursday, noon: I don't know if Conference USA will be a one-bid league, with three teams all in the RPI low 40s in UAB (40), UTEP (41) and Memphis (46). Memphis' only loss in the last eight games was against the same Houston team they'll likely face Thursday. A Tigers loss there might knock them out, but if UAB and UTEP meet in the final, they both may get in.
Thursday, noon: Is Utah State (24-6, RPI 32) already in? With 15 straight wins and a resume that includes nine top-100 wins, the Utes might be safe, but an opening-round loss to Boise State could put that in jeopardy.
Thursday, 6:30 p.m.: Florida (20-11, RPI 52) could get knocked off the bubble (or at least back onto it) with an opening-round loss to Auburn. Opinions are mixed on the Gators -- Jerry Palm has them as a No. 10 seed, while ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi has them as the sixth-to-last team in.
Thursday, 5:30 p.m.: The Mountain West could have anywhere from two to four teams in the NCAAs -- for it to be the former, Bulls fans want San Diego State (20-8, RPI 36) to fall to Colorado State in Thursday's quarterfinals. If UNLV (22-7, RPI 47) can fall to Utah in the 11:30 p.m. game, that would help as well -- the Utes swept the Rebels in two meetings this season.
Thursday, 7 p.m.: If any ACC bubble team is vulnerable, it's Georgia Tech, which faces 10th-seeded North Carolina in Greensboro. Yellow Jackets had a losing record in ACC, and a loss here might knock them out.
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.: I don't see how Minnesota (17-12) is ahead of USF in some projections -- three RPI top 30 wins, but the Gophers' actual RPI is 78. Lose in the opening round to Penn State, and they're out. Bulls should also pull for Illinois (18-13, losers of four of last five) to lose to Wisconsin on Friday.
Thursday, 9 p.m.: Could the Pac-10 really be a one-bid league? For that to happen, California needs to win the conference tournament, and you might need Arizona State (22-9, RPI 53) and Washington (21-9, RPI 49) to lose in Thursday's opening round. Either of those two makes Saturday's final, they're probably in as an at-large.
Friday, 2:15 p.m.: There's not much respect for the SEC West this year -- if Mississippi (21-9, RPI 57) can lose its first game to Thursday's LSU-Tennessee winner (by that, we mean the Vols), that's good for USF. Much the same way, whoever wins Thursday's Florida-Auburn game can eliminate Mississippi State (21-10, RPI 69) by knocking them out Friday night. But if that's Florida, it might lock the Gators in.
Friday, 2:30 p.m.: If Doug Woolard can call in a favor to his old school, Saint Louis, it'd help the Bulls if the Billikens can beat Rhode Island (21-8, RPI 39) in Friday's quarterfinals. URI has taken two bad losses in its last three games, and a loss here would likely keep them out. And SLU (19-13, RPI 83) is too far out to get in without winning the A-10 title. The Bulls would also benefit from Xavier knocking out a bubble team in Dayton (19-11, RPI 51) in the 6:30 game.
USF will probably know its bubble fate by Saturday -- teams still alive the day before Selection Sunday can't really knock themselves out of contention that much. Stay tuned ...