The University of South Florida is participating in March Madness, as the women’s team was named to the NCAA tournament, though their spot in the tournament is not without controversy.
The Lady Bulls earned their spot in the women’s basketball tournament after a 24-8 season that saw them make it to the American Athletic Conference’s final, where they would lose to the number one team in the country, the undefeated University of Connecticut. This was their fifth straight 20 win season, and eighth overall, all under head coach Jose Fernandez.
Despite hovering in or around both the Associated Press and the USA Today Top-25 polls all season, the Lady Bulls enter the tournament as an 11 seed, far lower than most people believe they deserved. They likely received that ranking due to their statistical performances, as well as a rough February.
The Lady Bulls finished the season ranked 65th in the country in scoring offence with 70.9 points per game, and they ranked 106th for their scoring defense, allowing 61.6 points per game. These are not statistics that instill a lot of faith in a team hoping to prove they deserved a higher ranking.
They also had to contend with a February that saw the team lose four games, half of their total losses for the season. When looking for a high seeding, finishing out the regular season like that will almost always doom a team.
They will play in the Stockton region, notably avoiding powerhouses such as UConn and Notre Dame, the two likely finalists in the tournament.
Their first game, to be played on March 17, will be against the AP 25th ranked Missouri, who finished their season 21-10 and tied for third in the Southeastern Conference. This game will take place in Tallahassee, Fla. home of the region’s third seed, Florida State, a team the Lady Bulls hope to face in the second round.
Missouri and USF are ranked closely in the polls, but the Bulls will be aided with strong forward play from the newly named 2017 conference freshman of the year Tamara Henshaw, as well as last year’s conference freshman of the year Kitija Laksa.
The biggest challenge to the team’s first round matchup may not be Missouri’s 133rd ranked offense or their 117th ranked defense, but more the Lady Bull’s own mindset.
The Lady Bulls were 13-1 before facing UConn on Jan. 10, where they were crushed 102-37. Granted, it was against UConn, a team that bulldozed through everyone on their schedule. The Huskies finished 32-0, and won all but three games by a double digit margin.
However, it was after that first loss to the Huskies that USF’s wheels began to spin, finishing 9-5 for the rest of the regular season, though they did show resilience in the conference tournament, dispatching SMU in the quarterfinals and one of the NCAA tournament seven seeds Temple in the semifinals, before again getting demolished by UConn in the finals, 100-44.
Look for USF to likely advance past Missouri in the first round, but don’t expect them to get further than that, as they’ll most likely be facing Florida State in the second round. Getting past the Seminoles in Tallahassee to go to the Sweet 16 will probably be too much to ask of this team.