In the immediate wake of his team’s stunning loss Tuesday, as the fan base’s numbness was transitioning to disgust, USF women’s coach Jose Fernandez made a subtle plea for perspective.
“I don’t want one loss to diminish the job that (these players) have done ... because we’ve had a very, very good year,” Fernandez said minutes after his top-seeded club’s 65-53 defeat to eighth-seeded Wichita State in the American Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals.
“We had a very good November and December, and over 16 nights we proved that we were the best team in this conference.”
Indeed, the Bulls (26-6) will move forward in March, thanks to what they achieved in the four months preceding it. An AAC regular-season title, a solid NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking (30th entering Tuesday), and non-conference wins against NCAA Tournament-bound Texas and Alabama assure them of an at-large berth in the 64-team NCAA field.
Nonetheless, the body of work now has a glaring blemish, one that won’t escape the eye of the selection committee. Tuesday’s quarterfinal loss, in which USF made only four of 22 3-point attempts, was the first by a No. 1 seed in the AAC tournament’s nine-season history.
The consequences of that unsightly defeat will come during Sunday’s 8 p.m. selection show on ESPN.
“I think anything higher than a (No.) 7 (seed) is out of the question now,” veteran ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Creme said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times. “I still have them as a 7, but as the lowest 7 versus the highest 7 before the day started. An 8 is now a possibility, too.”
The dreaded No. 8 seed represents a worst-case scenario for a team that might have been flirting with a 5-6 seed when the week dawned. A first-round victory in the 8-versus-9 opening-round matchup essentially guarantees a second-round contest against the region’s top seed on its home floor.
A No. 7 seed wouldn’t offer much relief.
Creme’s latest bracket projection (updated following Tuesday afternoon’s loss) has USF as a 7 playing Mississippi State in Storrs, Connecticut, with the winner facing the UConn-Fairleigh Dickinson winner in the the second round. USF is 0-33 all-time against the Huskies.
Then again, the Bulls had won seven in a row against Wichita State entering Tuesday’s game. As this month annually proves, mediocrity can segue to madness in short order.
“We’ve won 26 games for a reason,” Fernandez said. “We’re still a really good basketball team.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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