Women's hoops: Tougher schedule in '09-10
When asked why USF's women's basketball team didn't make the NCAA Tournament cut this spring despite a 22 wins and a .500 record in the Big East, the chair of the selection committee cited the Bulls' nonconference strength of schedule, which she said ranked 264th in the nation.
With that in mind, USF coach Jose Fernandez has made an effort to improve the level of competition his team will face in the first two months of the season. And in doing so, he hasn't improved the toughest teams his Bulls will face in November and December, but rather has improved the weakest teams on USF's schedule.
Last season, of the 14 nonconference games USF played, eight were against teams that finished with RPIs of 225 or lower -- essentially the bottom third of the 341 teams in Division I. It was an unflattering list, topped by Jackson State (RPI 324), Grambling (314), Northern Arizona (288) and Stetson (287). By comparison, the Bulls had just four teams in the RPI top 180 -- Cal (29), Iowa (37), Texas Tech (50) and Tulane (129).
This season, the Bulls have removed much of the cupcakes from their preseason diet -- of 13 games, just four will be against teams with an RPI of 200 or lower, and only one of those to a team rated lower than 270. And while there isn't a significant dazzler of a quality win to be had -- the top opponents are Montana (47) and Wake Forest (64) -- there are seven teams in the RPI top 150, up from four a year ago. After Montana and Wake Forest, there's East Carolina (123), Tulane (129), Saint Louis (137), Jacksonville (140) and Loyola Marymount (149).
What's more, two of the weakest 2009-10 opponents -- North Florida (268) and Florida A&M (267) -- won't be held against USF because they're in-state opponents, and the NCAA understands the economic value of local opponents that can bus in for games instead of flying. That leaves one other bottom-50 opponent, either North Carolina Central or Houston Baptist, as part of a tournament at the Sun Dome.
If you take the average RPI of last year's nonconference opponents, it works out to 202.1; the same calculation this coming season yields an average of 181.6, a full 20 spots higher on average. Should the Bulls find themselves in the same precarious position on the NCAA bubble in March, their schedule shouldn't count against them nearly as much.