USF women: Are they in?
A week ago, I said with confidence that I thought USF's women's basketball team had locked up an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament with back-to-back wins against Seton Hall. As the team gathers tonight for the 8 p.m. announcement of the women's field, I'm not so sure.
The men's bracket is the first point of concern -- clearly the selection committee didn't value the Big East's depth as much as the experts that have been projecting the NCAA field. With Syracuse and West Virginia staying home, the Big East got only six teams in when many expected eight. Could the same thing happen on the women's side of March Madness?
USF was the eighth seed in the Big East tournament, so you'd think they'd be the odd team out if the league only got seven (or fewer) bids. The Bulls won head-to-head with two teams directly above them in the standings -- Notre Dame and Louisville. But it's hard to imagine either team not making the NCAA cut with a 10-6 conference record (Louisville's 26-6, so they're clearly in). USF's official RPI of 31 is good enough for most estimations, but there are Big East teams with lower RPIs but better records -- West Virginia's down at 38, but went 11-5 in the league, with essentially the same overall record, and the Mountaineers beat USF head-to-head. And RPIs aren't failsafe -- Air Force's men's team had an RPI of 25 and missed the cut Sunday night.
The lesser conferences didn't help the Bulls. Eighth-seeded Drake won out of the Missouri Valley, putting Creighton in as an at-large, and Idaho State (17-13) won the Big Sky, which likely puts Montana in as an unexpected at-large.
Let's consider the other three teams listed as "last four in" in ESPN.com's "Bracketology" projections (which have USF as a No. 12 seed). USF has a better RPI than all three. Washington? Went 18-12, lost in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. Texas? Awesome strength of schedule, but went 18-14, and like USF, lost to a top-10 team (Oklahoma) in the second round of their conference tournament. Oklahoma State? Finished below .500 in the Big 12 at 7-9, and lost in the first round of the tournament. None of those are as compelling as USF, which tells me that if an "out" team sneaks in, it likely won't be at USF's expense.
So if I'm guessing, USF is a No. 12 seed (maybe an 11, since last year they came in higher than expected). I'll guess Raleigh as their destination, which could mean a first-round date with a very hot N.C. State team on its home court. Check back tonight for more on USF's NCAA fate ...