TAMPA — Despite a sparkling resume, USF's women entered Monday evening's NCAA Tournament selection show nervous over whether they had achieved enough to secure a coveted four-seed and opening-round hosting rights that accompany it.
Turned out, their name was among the first to pop up on a bracket. ESPN spared them tons of fidgeting, but not tons of frustration.
The Bulls (26-7), 19th in the Associated Press poll and 14th in the RPI, are headed — or banished — back to Tallahassee for the second year in a row as a No. 6 seed in the Albany (N.Y.) Region. USF opens Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against No. 11-seeded Buffalo.
If it wins, it likely gets No. 3-seed Florida State on the Seminoles' home floor in the second round. By contrast, Ohio State, which lost by 19 to USF at the Sun Dome in February, is a three-seed in the Spokane (Wash.) Region.
Those baffling revelations Monday brought a whole new connotation to March madness.
"I was disappointed," senior forward Maria Jespersen said. "I definitely was."
Not nearly as peeved as coach Jose Fernandez, who purposely beefed up his non-conference schedule to enhance his team's chances of a solid seeding. USF defeated four tournament qualifiers (LSU, Ohio State, George Washington, Dayton) in non-conference play.
The Bulls also went 13-3 in the American Athletic Conference, and were one of only four teams to come within 16 points of Connecticut, which defeated them 70-54 in last week's AAC tournament final. So why the low seed?
"It looks like the tournament, for one reason or another, it's becoming regionalized," Fernandez said. "And I think you're only hurting the student-athletes by doing that."
Nevada senior women's administrator Rhonda Lundin Bennett, the selection committee chair, essentially confirmed Fernandez's suspicions in a teleconference Monday night. Also hurting USF's case, she said, was a road loss to Wichita State, 151st in the RPI.
"Geography is one of our things that we do consider and one of our principles," she said.
Even with Monday's disappointing news, the Bulls still possess a realistic shot of achieving the goal established in the preseason: reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Making the third weekend — the Final Four — is a bit more of a longshot.
Reigning national champion South Carolina is the two-seed. Connecticut is No. 1.
"We can't change what's gonna happen if I stand up here and answer questions and make comments about the committee and about the seed," Fernandez said. "We've got to put it behind us and go start worrying about Buffalo."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
Where/when: Donald L. Tucker Center, Tallahassee, Saturday
Schedule: FSU vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, 11 a.m.; USF vs. Buffalo, 1:30 (Winners play Monday, time TBD)
Tickets: Information at this link