USF women's hoops: Life on the bubble ...
USF's women's basketball team -- with a 20-9 record and 7-8 mark in the Big East -- is squarely on the NCAA bubble, needing either a win Monday at Villanova or a strong showing in the Big East tournament next weekend in Hartford to feel confident of its chances at landing their second-ever NCAA invitation.
Despite being picked to finish 12th in the Big East's preseason poll, USF has set its postseason goals on the NCAAs, not wanting a return trip to the Women's NIT, which would be USF's fifth in six years. USF coach Jose Fernandez has put his magic number at 22 wins, with anything else leaving it up to the selection committee -- two years ago, USF was 20-11 and just missed the NCAA cut.
Wins at Rutgers and DePaul have helped USF in the past month, but the Bulls have been on the outside looking in because of a 1-4 start in Big East play. The conference has put eight teams in the NCAA field in each of the past three years, and the Bulls need to hope for the same, if not a nine-team showing.
USF's biggest problem is that the Bulls haven't beaten the teams closest to them on the bubble. They enter Monday's regular-season finale with the same 7-8 record as Marquette and Georgetown in a three-way tie for eighth place. Marquette is likely to lose against Louisville (13-2) while Georgetown is likely win at Seton Hall (3-11). Ideal scenario for USF? The Bulls win at Villanova to finish 8-8 in the league, and see Marquette lost to fall to 16-14 and 7-9, making them a tough sell despite 11 wins against RPI top 100 teams (USF currently has seven).
In that scenario, USF wouldn't get a first-round bye in the tournament, but that's a good thing, because it'd give them a game Friday against the last-place team in the conference, an easy win to boost their NCAA resume. Then the Bulls would face Georgetown on Saturday -- the Hoyas are on the NCAA bubble, but have just one win against an RPI top 50 team (USF). A Bulls win would offset their regular-season loss to the Hoyas and establish them as, at worst, the eighth-most NCAA-worthy team in the league (providing Marquette doesn't last longer in the conference tournament). Beating Georgetown in this scenario would give USF 23 wins and 10 against Big East teams -- no major-conference team with more than 20 wins was left out of the NCAA field last season.
If USF loses Monday at Villanova, it gets tough for the Bulls, as they'd likely be seeded 10th in the conference tournament, which would allow them an opening-round win -- giving them 21 -- but likely lining them up against Rutgers in the second round. The Bulls would likely have to repeat their biggest win of the season to solidify an NCAA berth.
Both of the two sites that project the NCAA women's field had USF on the outside looking in earlier this week, but four of the eight teams listed ahead of USF on ESPN.com's bubble lost this week. We'll update the bubble watch after USF's game at Villanova on Monday night.
One more note on Villanova -- it's a battle of contrasting styles. USF loves the uptempo game, while Villanova frustrates opponents with a slow, defensive game. Villanova hasn't scored more than 70 points in a game this season -- USF has topped 75 points in its last six games. The Bulls are 1-7 when they fail to score 70 points, so we'll set that as the over-under for USF imposing its tempo on the game ...