Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bubble burst: No NCAAs for USF Women

Despite being projected by experts as making the cut for the NCAA Tournament, the Bulls were passed over when the field of 64 was announced Monday night, with only seven Big East teams chosen.

USF (22-10) is left for the consolation of the Women's NIT, the Bulls' fifth appearance there in the past six seasons. USF coach Jose Fernandez had set 22 wins as the magic number for his team, which closed the season strong with road wins against Rutgers, DePaul and Villanova.

"At the end of the day, I feel for this bunch," Fernandez said. "You start four seniors, and a lot of these guys have been left out of the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years. ... This year, we broke a school record for wins, won 22 games, didn't have one bad loss. We beat Iowa and Texas Tech on the road, beat DePaul, Rutgers, Villanova all on the road. Five top-50 wins, (nine) top-100 wins, and we're sitting at home. ... There's got to be some kind of accountability."

USF has earned a first-round bye in the 48-team NIT, and the Bulls on Saturday will host the winner of Thursday's opening-round game between George Washington and Florida Gulf Coast. FGCU beat USF in Fort Myers in the first round of last year's NIT.

Three of ESPN.com's four NCAA analysts cited USF as being the tournament's "Biggest Snub" in reviewing the bracket Monday night.

Committee chair Jacki Silar, speaking on a teleconference Monday night, cited USF's nonconference strength of schedule, which she said ranked 264th nationally, as a factor the committee took into consideration in not choosing the Bulls. USF played just three top-100 teams in nonconference play.

Senior guard Shantia Grace, the only remaining member of USF's 2006 NCAA team, said the news was "heartbreaking" for a team that believed it had done enough to earn an at-large berth. Sophomore guard and leading scorer Danielle Starzynski did not appreciate the news either stating, "This is rediculous we got screwed over hardbody. I don't even have any words for this decision right now."

Among the teams chosen over USF were Virginia Commonwealth, which did not beat a team rated in the top 50 all season, its best win against a James Madison team rated No. 57 in the country. Georgia and Minnesota won despite worse records and lower RPIs while playing in lower-rated conferences.

Fernandez knew something was wrong when the top half of the Berkeley bracket was announced without a Big East team -- he knew that if his team was the eighth Big East team, the eight teams would be split evenly, one in each half of each region, so when a region came up with no Big East team, he said his team was out, with 24 spots still left to be announced.

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