How many cases of the (Selection) Mondays can Jose Fernandez take?

For the fourth time in six NCAA Tournament appearances, USF's women have been placed in the same region as UConn.
USF women's coach Jose Fernandez (center) talks strategy with his team during its 19-point home win against Ohio State on Feb. 11, 2018. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Times)
USF women's coach Jose Fernandez (center) talks strategy with his team during its 19-point home win against Ohio State on Feb. 11, 2018. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Times)
Published March 16, 2018

TAMPA — Since receiving another brush-off from another NCAA Tournament selection committee, Jose Fernandez has displayed a series of suppressed reactions.

Since learning Monday that his 19th-ranked team (26-7) received a No. 6 regional seed despite the resume of a four or five seed, USF's veteran coach has done a slow burn, with some stewing and simmering tossed in.

But he hasn't boiled over … yet.

"I just told (the team) it's a great life lesson," Fernandez said Thursday, shortly before boarding a bus for the four-hour ride to Tallahassee, where the Bulls begin tournament play Saturday against No. 11-seeded Buffalo. "Sometimes you think you should be making more money, you don't get the job you want, you don't get what you deserve. The bottom line is, if we don't go up there and play well, I guess the committee was right and we were a six seed.

"If we go up there and take care of business, then we'll be looking forward to coming back here and practicing … next week."

If that response sounds a bit rehearsed or polished, it's only because Fernandez has had plenty of practice with diplomacy. This is hardly the first year in which he has had to publicly put on a brave face after having it slapped on Selection Monday.

Now, many USF fans are beginning to wonder how much more of the high road Fernandez can take before he simply exits and takes his talents elsewhere.

On Thursday, Fernandez — wrapping up his 18th season at USF — was asked that very question. He smiled slightly, and never answered.

But he didn't balk when asked about the selection committee.

"Here's the thing: Us as coaches have to go to the NCAA press conference after a win or a loss," he said. "We expect student-athletes to do the right thing and comment and not talk about officials. But these guys (on the selection committee) have no one to answer to."

If ever USF's case for a top-four seeding appeared air tight, it was this season.

To fortify his team's RPI, Fernandez filled his non-conference slate with stern competition, then watched the Bulls defeat four teams (LSU, Ohio State, George Washington, Dayton) that made the NCAA field.

Additionally, four of USF's seven defeats were against the tournament's top two overall seeds (three losses to No. 1 Connecticut, one to Notre Dame).

With their 70-54 loss to UConn in the American Athletic Conference tournament final, they became one of only four teams this season to come within 16 points of the Huskies.

Yet in what many perceive as Power Five bias, USF and Central Michigan were the only teams with top-16 RPI rankings not to earn a top-four tournament seeding, which comes with the right to host first- and second-round games. The only other Group of Five team with a top-16 RPI: UConn.
N.C. State (17th in the RPI) is a No. 4 seed. So is Georgia (26th). Ohio State, which lost by 19 at USF in mid-February, is a three.

Moreover, in four of USF's six NCAA Tournament appearances — including this one — the Bulls have been lumped in the same region as UConn, though they already play the Huskies two — and sometimes three — times a year as a conference rival.

USF women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez reacts to a play during the first half of a Feb. 11 game vs. Ohio State Buckeyes. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Times)
USF women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez reacts to a play during the first half of a Feb. 11 game vs. Ohio State Buckeyes. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones, Times)

"I would say their worst loss was … Wichita State (151st in RPI)," selection committee chair Rhonda Lundin Bennett said. "When you start looking at those teams in seedings, those are some of the things that are gonna differentiate teams and determine which seed line they're on."

That's too flimsy, Fernandez argues. He says the Bulls were seeded lower — and shuttled off to Tallahassee for the second year in a row — in an ongoing effort to "regionalize" the tournament. Bennett even said "geography is one of our principles" when it comes to placing teams on the bracket."

And that, Fernandez says, removes all incentive for him to schedule rugged non-conference opposition.

"Seed the teams where they should be seeded," he said. "Why am I gonna go schedule the non-conference schedule that I play, if I'm either gonna be a five or six (seed) or a 10 or 11 (and sent) to Tallahassee or Miami every year? I should just be mediocre and be an eight or nine so I can get sent out west."

All of which begs the question of how much more Fernandez, nationally lauded for catapulting USF from irrelevance to national prominence, can or will endure.

Which isn't to suggest he has stuck a for-sale sign in his front yard.

A Miami native and avid fisherman, Fernandez — a married dad of five girls — loves Florida and is wildly popular in Tampa. And while contractually strung along twice by USF's previous athletic administration, he has had his contract re-upped twice in the past three years by current athletic director Mark Harlan.

He signed a six-year deal worth nearly $3 million in 2015, and had two years added to it last spring. He also works in a facility (the Muma Center) more palatial than many in the Power Five. And he absolutely detests cold weather.

But he also hates cold shoulders, at least the ones he experiences during most selection shows. Moreover, as long as he remains in the same league as UConn (though the Huskies-to-Big East rumblings keep intensifying), Fernandez has a minimal chance of ever winning a conference title.

Toss in the perception that the Bulls' annual losses to UConn are being held against them for seeding purposes, and one wonders when it's all gonna boil over.

Fernandez doesn't respond.

Maybe that says it all.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

NCAA Women's Tournament

No. 11 Buffalo vs. No. 6 USF

1 p.m. Saturday, Tallahassee