Bulls seeded No. 8 in NCAA tournament, set to play No. 9 Washington State in first round

This is the seventh time in program history the Bulls have made the NCAA tournament, and the first time since 2018. USF ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

After winning its first-ever regular-season and conference tournament title, the USF women’s basketball team has earned the No. 8 seed in the Mercado Region of the 2021 NCAA tournament, announced on ESPN Monday night.

Despite the excitement of making it back in the big dance, coach Jose Fernandez believes his team may have deserved a higher seeding based on its impressive resume.

“We were the AAC regular-season champs, we were the AAC tournament champs,” Fernandez said following the selection show. “If that garners an eight [seed], I don’t know what we could’ve done differently.”

USF (18-3, 12-2 AAC) is set to play No. 9 Washington State (12-11, 9-10 Pac-12) in Round 1 in Austin, Texas, March 21 at 9:30 p.m.

The Cougars average 63.7 points per game and are led by freshman guard Charlisse Leger-Walker who averages 18.9 points per game.

Leger-Walker’s older sister, redshirt senior guard Krystal Leger-Walker, is the team’s second-leading scorer at 10 points per game.

Washington State also allows, on average, the same amount of points they score — 63.7. The Cougars’ rim protector is sophomore center Bella Murekatete, who averages 1.5 blocks per game.

If the Bulls are able to get past the Cougars, they’ll have to face the No. 1 seed in the region, North Carolina State, in the Round of 32. The Wolfpack (23-3, 14-2 ACC) are the ACC tournament champions and boast the nation’s 19th best offense, averaging 77.3 points per game.

“We’ll be ready to go Sunday evening. Washington State, PAC-12 team, I haven’t seen them play much,” Fernandez said. “They are very, very well coached, they play in a very good league. We’ll get back and watch tape, get ready for them and then you fall into that next game, which is NC State, who is very, very good, who just won the ACC tournament.

“I’m sure Washington State and NC State are also thinking, ‘Why’s South Florida in our quad?’”

Rebounding is a stat the Bulls have a notable advantage in. The Cougars average 37.1 boards per game, compared to 44 from USF. That edge may benefit USF’s frontcourt players like senior forward Bethy Mununga who averages 13.3 rebounds per game, the second best in the nation.

UCF, which earned a No. 10 seed, is the only other representative of the AAC to make the tournament this year. The Knights, who were on the bubble coming into Monday night, are scheduled to play No. 7 Northwestern in the first round.

The Bulls were likely going to make the NCAA tournament regardless if they had won the AAC tournament or not, based on their entire body of work. Their final seeding, however, surprised analysts who thought, much like Fernandez, they deserved a higher placing.

ESPN women’s basketball bracketology expert Charlie Creme had USF as a seven seed taking on Florida Gulf Coast in his latest mock bracket.

Although the seeding was a bit unexpected, Fernandez acknowledges his team now has the opportunity to set the record straight.

“I think we’re better than an eight seed,” Fernandez said. “But again, now, we just got to go out and just play and prove it.”

The Bulls will take on the Cougars with tipoff scheduled for March 21 at 9:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.