USF Women's Basketball has never been afraid to take on a challenge under Jose Fernandez, but the 2014-15 schedule is insanely difficult even by their high standards.
The Bulls open the season against old Big East rival Villanova and legendary coach Harry Perretta in the Chattanooga Invitational, then take on the UT-Chattanooga Moccasins in the second game. UTC was 29-4 (RPI 44) last year and an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Syracuse in the first round.
Then the Bulls head to College Park to take on Maryland, who was a mere 24-6 last year while finishing 20th in the RPI. Do you see a pattern here?
After opening the Sun Dome portion of the schedule against UNC-Asheville, they head to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam. A fun little Thanksgiving tournament that also acts as kind of a vacation? Hardly. Oklahoma, Illinois, and Kentucky (RPI 10). Yikes.
When the Bulls finally get a home stand, it's the Stetson team (RPI 60) that USF beat in the second round of the WNIT last season, and the always tough St. John's (RPI 22) before some delicious and well-deserved cupcakes in the College of Charleston and Northern Colorado.
Think they just want to ease into AAC play? Hardly. They finish the out-of-conference slate with Penn State (RPI 13) in State College on Dec. 21st.
"We're playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, and I think we should be doing that, because we're going to be good this season," head coach Jose Fernandez said. "This team is deserving of the national attention it's going to be receiving this year, and these conference basketball games are going to be great national TV. We're excited to play this year, and to continue playing in front of a national audience."
Of course all of this is before the Bulls head into AAC play with UConn on the schedule. Twice. Egads.
Fernandez should be excited about his team, as he returns junior All-American Honorable Mention guard Courtney Williams for her third season. Williams put up 16.3 ppg and 7.5 rpg last season, and was a joy to watch with her hyper-athletic play and quickness. She also did this, which goes down as one of the best moments in program history:
Also returning are First Team All-AAC forward Alisia Jenkins (9.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg), and super shooting sophomore Spaniard Ariadna Pujol (5.2 ppg). Added to the mix are freshman guard Laura Ferreira (Top 50 Recruit according to ESPN from Portugal) and junior college transfer guard Bre Brooks. Fernandez has had luck with JC transfer guards before, as twins Andrea and Andrell Smith were a huge part of the team that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2013.
Anything but an NCAA Tournament berth will be a huge disappointment. The Bulls will also be competing for a nice seed in the NCAA's come Selection Sunday, and with a rule change this year the top four seeds in each of the four brackets will host the first and second rounds on their home floors. With their schedule, they'll have a chance to host an NCAA Tournament game in the Sun Dome for the first time since the 1996 NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
It should be a fun year for women's basketball in Tampa, especially with the Women's Final Four in the
Tampa Bay Times Fourm Amalie Arena in April.