We are three weeks away from Selection Monday for the Women's NCAA Tournament and the UCF Knights currently sit at 17-9 overall with a 9-4 record in the American Athletic Conference, tied for 3rd with Houston.
The Knights are coming off one of the most dramatic games ever played at the CFE Arena on Sunday against #22 South Florida. Unfortunately, the Knights lost in overtime, 77-68. So what does that mean for the Knights' postseason outlook?
Regardlessofn what happens the rest of the season, UCF will be at least a WNIT team once again, which would be two seasons in a row. But what about the NCAA Tournament?
That is much more complicated. In the latest RPI release on Monday, UCF came in at 50th, which is not bad. But in Monday's NCAA tournament projections by ESPN's Charlie Creme, the Knights are nowhere to be found. I am not talking about not being in the field - I am talking about not even being mentioned in first four teams out or four teams after that. So why is that the case?
Here's breakdown of some of the numbers that are going against UCF.
- 0-4 vs. RPI Top 50 (2 losses to UConn, 2 losses to USF)
- 2 wins vs. RPI Top 100 (at #64 UC-Davis and vs. #79 IUPUI )
- American Athletic Conference RPI ranking: 8th
The American has had a down season compared to last season when it got three teams into the field of 64, and was the sixth-best conference according to the RPI. Injuries have been a huge reason for the decline.
Temple, which finished second in the regular season last year and made the NCAA Tournament, has been without All-Conference guard Alicia Butts thanks to a torn ACL. SMU, who was a WNIT team last season, has been without All-Conference forward Alicia Froling. If both of those players had been healthy this season, both Temple and SMU would be postseason contenders and likely near the top of conference, instead of middle-of-the-pack to bottom of the standings in the conference.
That is one example of the issues of just going by the numbers when picking field teams for NCAA Tournament, which the committee more and more just does. Their strategy seems to have been based on what the numbers of RPI spit out instead of studying the teams and using the eye test.
For example, let's take Buffalo, who Creme has in the mix for the NCAA Tournament out of the MAC, which is rated as the 7th-best conference, ahead of the AAC. Buffalo has an RPI of 14. The best win Buffalo has on its resume is a split with Central Michigan, who has RPI of 27 and no quality wins out of the conference. The best non-conference win for Buffalo was against Nebraska, who has an RPI of 62, which is basically the same as what UCF has with its win at UC-Davis.
Some numbers in favor of UCF to this point:
UCF: 49th overall, 57th non-conference.
Buffalo: 75th overall, non-conference 182nd
Ball State: 108th overall, 157th non-conference
Yet Charlie Creme has Buffalo and Ball State in the mix for the NCAA Tournament, but not UCF?
Anyone that watched UCF play USF on Sunday or on February 7th vs. UConn would tell you that UCF should be in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament. The Knights are being hurt by things they cannot control, like the conference being down due to injuries.
So Is there anything UCF can do to make it to NCAA Tournament? Yes, but the room for error is small.
- Win out at Memphis, at Houston and vs. ECU to finish 3rd in AAC. By doing this, the Knights would be in the side of the bracket with USF and not UConn at AAC Tournament. That is very important because UCF will more than likely need a quality win in the conference tournament to boost its resume. By being a 3-seed, UCF would have established themselves as the 3rd-best team in the league and get another shot at USF in the semifinals with right to get to the final.
- Make the American Athletic Conference Final. The Knights will need to make the final, as it would mean they got the resume win it would need against USF.
- Play UConn competitively. If UCF plays UConn in the conference tournament, they need to play them competitively like on Februrary 7th, where they lost 55-37. Showcase yourself on TV to where people watching leave with impression that UCF is a really good team.
This is the formula the Knights will have to solve in the next couple weeks to get them in the mix for NCAA Tournament. But it starts with one game at a time, finishing the regular season strong, and charging on to the AAC Tournament.