TAMPA — Veteran USF women's coach Jose Fernandez has fidgeted through too many NCAA Tournament selection shows to let anything surprise him anymore.
But he's still not immune to being puzzled or perplexed. And when he saw his school's name pop up Monday night — as a No. 11 seed in the Stockton, Calif., bracket — Fernandez found himself baffled all over again.
"If we were an 11 seed, that means we were one of the last teams in this tournament," said Fernandez, whose club (24-8) faces sixth-seeded Missouri (21-10) at 5 p.m. Friday in Tallahassee. "I find that very hard to believe."
In a sense, that bewilderment testified to the evolution of USF's program, which will make its third consecutive NCAA appearance and fifth overall. A half-decade ago, USF on any bracket would've elicited delirium.
But Monday, the roughly 150 fans and school officials who convened inside a Sun Dome lounge area — and who have grown accustomed to NCAA berths — responded with an ovation a bit more reserved than raucous.
"This is the expectation for us," Fernandez said.
What wasn't expected was the bracket line on which they found themselves.
American Athletic Conference rival Temple, which owns a top-20 RPI but lost two of three to USF (including the AAC tournament semifinals), drew a seven seed in the Bridgeport, Conn., region. How did that happen?
"No idea," Fernandez said.
But he has a theory: The selection committee devoted too much emphasis on geography at the expense of seeding. For example, all four tournament teams from Florida remain in the state for the opening weekend.
"These selections look really regionalized-based," Fernandez said, "and that's not how this tournament should go."
Selection committee chairperson Terry Gawlik cited another consideration: positioning teams so that conference foes don't face each other in the early rounds.
"We want to make sure we do everything possible to look at those and make the bracket work," Gawlik said.
Joining USF in the Stockton Region is No. 3 seed (and opening-weekend site host) FSU, fourth-seeded (and site host) Miami (23-8) and 13th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast (26-8). Should the Bulls get past Missouri, a Sunday matchup against the 10th-ranked Seminoles (25-6) likely awaits.
The Bulls are 12-22 all-time against FSU, but have only one victory in the series since 1980.
"Hey, we're really excited," Fernandez said. "It's an opportunity for our fans to come see us in Tallahassee. We're playing a very, very good Missouri team to get to that second game."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.