With their bags packed and their sights set on a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, the Bulls had everything but a punched ticket.
As the field of 64 teams dwindled down to the final bracket of 16 announced to play in Dayton, Ohio, the omission of USF grew ever more conspicuous.
On a night that was supposed to be filled with answers about where they were going and who they were playing next, the Bulls were left with nothing but questions.
“What more do we have to do?” coach Jose Fernandez said. “You win 20 games, you go 9-7 in the league, have an (RPI) of 31 and you don’t get in? I don’t understand it.”
The Rating Percentage Index is a measurement that ranks teams based on strength of schedule, one of the major factors in deciding tournament bids.
The Bulls (20-11, 9-7) won their first Big East Tournament game with a 79-64 victory over Seton Hall in the opening round. But on March 4, USF fell to then-No. 3 Connecticut 74-54 in Hartford.
Eight teams from the Big East qualified yesterday: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Notre Dame, Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia and DePaul.
The DePaul Blue Demons, with an overall record of 19-12 and a conference record of 8-8, took a spot that seemed to belong to USF. The Bulls felt their 72-65 loss to DePaul earlier in the year excluded them from contention.
“When I look back on it, I would say the DePaul game kept us out of the tournament,” senior guard Tristen Webb said. “That was probably the big one.”
DePaul garnered attention during the Big East Tournament when the Blue Demons advanced to the quarterfinals and remained competitive with eventual tournament champion Rutgers before falling 63-55.
The 10-panel voting committee said leaving the Bulls out of the tournament was one of the toughest decisions they faced forming this year’s bracket.
“South Florida was one of the teams that made it all the way down to the final selections,” NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee Chair Judy Southard said during a teleconference. “But they went 2-10 against Top 50 teams and that’s where DePaul was able to jump ahead of them.”
According to the NCAA’s RPI rankings, USF’s RPI is 31st in the country while DePaul’s is 60th.
When the Blue Demons were the eighth team from the Big East selected, the Bulls knew their chance to make the NCAA Tournament again was gone.
Although the season didn’t culminate with another tournament appearance, the Bulls were still proud of their accomplishments.
“I wouldn’t say our season is a disappointment. I think it’s a disappointment not going,” forward Jessica Dickson said. “I think we did expect to make it, and it hurts not to.”
What remains for the Bulls is the possibility of playing in their third Women’s National Invitation Tournament in four years.
“It’s postseason play; a lot of people would be excited about the possibility of a postseason tournament,” Fernandez said. “(But) no, I’m not (most people).”
This season the WNIT field has been expanded to 48 teams, with winners of the regular-season conference championships not included in the NCAA Tournament earning automatic berths. The expansion is intended to allow a team from each conference to be represented.
The WNIT selections were announced Monday night. If the Bulls accept the invitation and play in the WNIT, they would earn a first-round bye and play either St. Joseph’s or Coppin State.
USF accepted an invitation and hosted a WNIT Tournament game at the Sun Dome two years ago, and there’s a chance the Bulls will host another tournament game this season if they decide to play.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not the worst thing that can happen in life – it’s just basketball,” Webb said. “We have to get over it and concentrate on the NIT Tournament.”