By late afternoon on a bittersweet Monday, the USF women’s basketball and soccer teams learned they were formally back in the Associated Press top 25 and NCAA Tournament, respectively.
Both are annual aspirations, if not expectations, for the programs. Hence the reason for high-fives around the Selmon Athletics Center.
But a closer look at the poll and bracket left a bitter aftertaste certain to linger.
Three days after upsetting then-No. 15 Texas, 64-57, at the Yuengling Center, Coach Jose Fernandez’s club (2-0) made its 2019-20 poll debut at No. 25. Three spots above the Bulls? Texas.
Fernandez politely declined comment Monday evening, but soccer coach Denise Schilte-Brown was a bit more outspoken about her team’s tourney draw.
Despite winning their second American Athletic Conference crown in three years and owning a sparkling RPI (24th), the Bulls (14-4) must travel to Florida (11-8-1, No. 23 RPI) for an NCAA opening-round match Friday at 7.
The entire tourney bracket can be seen here. Only 32 schools host opening-weekend tournament action, meaning the NCAA’s selection committee evidently didn’t deem USF among the nation’s top 32 programs.
“Do I think the draw was fair? No, not at all,” said Schilte-Brown, whose club topped Memphis, 2-0, in Sunday’s AAC tournament final.
“Not for us or Florida. I think we both deserve to host. I think we’re both ranked high enough to where the regional ranking doesn’t make sense. They needed to take another look at that, in my opinion.”
The Bulls’ reward for a first-round triumph almost certainly would be another road trip, perhaps as far away as Washington. After the first round, the tourney is split into eight groups of four teams, with the highest-seeded team serving as host.
FSU (15-5, No. 4 RPI) is seeded first in USF’s group, with Washington (11-6-2, No. 18 RPI) the second-highest seed.
“There’s only three schools in the state that made the top 64, where’s the reward for the teams in the state that have done that?” said Schilte-Brown, whose team lost 2-0 to UF at home in early August despite out-shooting the Gators 20-4.
“Instead, you play two teams that are ranked (23 and 24) against each other? Makes no sense to me. But it’s all right. I mean, you want to play great teams to get all the way through.”