AAC Tournament could lead USF to March Madness bid
Despite winning the regular season title and ranking No. 25 in the AP poll and No. 22 in the WBCA poll, USF women’s basketball’s quest to secure not only a conference tournament title, but an NCAA Women’s D1 Basketball Tournament bid, isn’t quite finished.
The Bulls (26-5, AAC 15-1) take on the AAC tournament at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas from March 6-9, entering as the No. 1 seed. Their first matchup is on March 7 in game four against the winner of the first-round contest between Temple and Wichita State.
In addition to the Owls and Shockers, round one holds a competition between the Knights and the Golden Hurricane in the second match. Cincinnati and Tulane will battle in the third game. In the second round of the tourney, SMU and Houston will face off. The winner of meet two will play Memphis and the winner of contest three will see ECU.
USF has made semi finals all nine years it has participated, but is seeking its second overall win. While making it to the championships six times, the last time the Bulls took home the trophy was in 2021, winning 64-54 over the Knights.
If USF wins on March 7, there is a possibility that they will face Houston in game eight which could be one of its biggest opponents in the tournament. The Cougars were the Bulls’ only conference loss. A large part of their 71-69 defeat was the Bulls’ shaky defense and a slow 30% turnover rate.
Aspects like turnovers and a slow defense could limit USF’s performance. However, playing well is a priority for South Florida, as not only could it give the team a championship win, but it could convince the NCAA committee to give the Bulls their ticket to return to March Madness. Last year, the Bulls lost 78-66 in the first round to the Hurricanes.
Their performance in Texas is vital to prove to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee that USF is eligible to play, coach Jose Fernandez said in a press conference after their regular season title win against SMU.
“You finish the season with 26 wins, go to [Fort Worth] to get three, and hopefully finish the season with 29 wins and see what the committee thinks of us,” Fernandez said. “I’ve been doing it a long time. That committee shifts every four years, right? So it all depends on who’s in the room and what that committee values sometimes.”
Luckily, USF is loaded with a line up that is 24-5 consisting of senior guard Elena Tsineke, junior point guard Aerial Wilson, junior guard Sammie Puisis, freshman wing Carla Brito and senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu.
USF will have six days to prepare for their first appearance in Fort Worth. Fernandez said there are no excuses for losing games in the tournament.
“There should be no reason why we’re not fresh for three games in three days. That’s on us,” Fernandez said.