Is USF women's hoops now in NCAA field?
Having won three of four games to move within one win of a .500 record in Big East play, has USF's women's basketball team put itself in position to make the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history?
There are still five important games left in the regular season, then a pivotal few days at the Big East tournament, but at least one projection has USF (18-7, 5-6) in the NCAA field. Analyst Jerry Palm, who runs CollegeRPI.com, has USF in as the eighth of nine Big East teams in his Feb. 10 projections. ESPN.com's Charlie Creme, meanwhile, has just seven Big East teams making the cut, with USF on the outside looking in as part of his most recent projection.
Think of it this way: The Big East has four locks for the tournament in Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. I see five teams in the next tier, battling for potentially three or four spots: Villanova, DePaul, Rutgers, USF and Marquette. The Golden Eagles beat West Virginia on Sunday to improve to 5-6 in league play, putting them even with USF and Rutgers. Marquette swept the Bulls, so they have that advantage, though their overall 14-11 record is far behind USF's.
So can the Bulls outsprint Rutgers to the finish line? It won't be easy. Rutgers' RPI is 20, thanks to a ridiculously tough schedule, much higher than USF, at 46. The Scarlet Knights' next four league opponents are a combined 12-33 in the Big East, and winning all four would have Rutgers 18-9 entering its season finale at home against No. 1 Connecticut. USF has a more challenging finish, with Notre Dame (6-5 in conference) at home Tuesday and DePaul (7-5) on the road next week. The Bulls should win games at West Virginia (3-7) and home against Cincinnati (3-8) -- let's say they take three of four, then they'd be 21-8 and 8-7 entering their regular-season finale at Villanova (9-2). A win there -- or two in the Big East tournament -- would probably clinch a spot in the NCAA field.
The new format of the Big East tournament, with the top eight teams getting a first-round bye, creates an interesting question for bubble teams: Is it better to be seeded ninth, getting an easy bonus win against the worst team in the league to boost your record, than to be eighth and get a bye? Either way, It'll be an uneasy week of waiting for any bubble team that doesn't make it to the final eight of the league tournament.
Do you think USF's women will make the NCAA Tournament? How many wins do the Bulls need to lock down a spot in the NCAA field?