An unprecedented regular season for the USF women’s basketball team didn’t translate to an unprecedented NCAA Tournament seeding.
The 19th-ranked Bulls (18-3), who won the program’s first conference regular-season and tournament crowns, begin NCAA Tournament play Sunday as a No. 8 seed in the Mercado Region in San Antonio, Texas. The Bulls face No. 9 Washington State (12-11) Sunday night at 9:30 on ESPN2.
USF’s reward should it win: a second-round game against top-seeded North Carolina State (20-2), which topped fifth-ranked Louisville, 58-56, in Sunday’s ACC tournament final.
“We’re the (American Athletic Conference) regular-season champions, we’re the AAC tournament champs,” Bulls veteran coach Jose Fernandez said. “If that garners an 8 (seed), I don’t know what we could’ve done differently.”
More games might have helped, but even that’s not a certainty. Limited to four non-conference contests due to the coronavirus, the Bulls still finished the regular season 25th in the women’s NET rankings, a key gauge used by the tournament selection committee for seedings.
It was the highest ranking of any of the tournament’s No. 8 seeds and one spot better than the No. 7 seed (Iowa State) in USF’s own region.
“I’m sure Washington State and N.C. State are also thinking, ‘Why South Florida in our quad?’ said Fernandez, whose team endured a one-month layoff due to coronavirus issues within the AAC.
“But hey, we don’t know what goes on in that (selection committee) room, and every year it changes. So we embrace it, we’re thankful we get an opportunity to continue to play, and I really look forward to getting back on the practice floor with this group.”
USF’s seeding, one spot lower than projected by ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme, represents a small consolation in that the Bulls will be in a different region than former conference nemesis Connecticut. In its six previous NCAA appearances, USF was placed in UConn’s bracket four times.
The Bulls fly Tuesday to San Antonio — site of all tournament contests — before being subject to a series of stern coronavirus protocols implemented by the NCAA. The team’s party will take three different buses to the hotel, where each member of the party will have their own room.
Upon arrival, all players and coaches must stay in their hotel room the first 48 hours, being permitted to leave only to get tested, Fernandez said.
“It’s different,” he added, “but to keep our student-athletes and staff and NCAA personnel safe, and for us to be able to have this tournament, that’s why we’re taking all these procedures.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.