New York, NY - Since the University of South Florida women's basketball team joined the BIG EAST Conference prior to the 2005-06 season, one thing has pretty much been a constant. USF has finished in at least eighth place in the league in three of the past five years, and they have advanced to the second day of the conference tournament in every season but one. So there is no reason to think that this year will be any different, despite the Bulls being picked to finish 11th by the BIG EAST coaches at this year's annual media day held at B.B. King Blues Club in the heart of Times Square in New York City.
"From day one I have been extremely excited about coaching and being around this group,” said USF head coach Jose Fernandez. “You know the way things are in the BIG EAST, two or three games can keep you in or out of the NCAA Tournament. You usually have seven or eight teams from the BIG EAST go to the NCAA’s. When you look at the preseason rankings, three of the past five years we have finished above .500, and when look at us being picked to finish 11th, and if you can move up three or four spots you’re an NCAA Tournament team. And if I didn’t think that we were going to have a very good basketball team this year I wouldn’t have scheduled like we did. Everything aside with this team, if we stay healthy, and do the right things on and off the court, this could be a very special year for our program.”
USF was picked 11th with 80 points 10 points ahead of 12th place Providence.
Defending National Champion Connecticut - who the Bulls open BIG EAST Conference play with on Dec. 2 in at the Sun Dome in Tampa - picked up all but one first place vote. West Virginia was picked second and Georgetown chosen third. Notre Dame and St. John’s were picked to finish fourth and fifth respectively.
DePaul, Rutgers, Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette round of the top 10.
USF lost its top three scorers off of last season’s team, including leading scorer, rebounder and first team All-BIG EAST Conference selection Jessica Lawson.
The Bulls, however, return KaNeisha Saunders, a BIG EAST All-Freshmen team member and Jasmine Wynne who missed the final 13 games of the season after tearing her ACL against Pittsburgh on Jan. 20.
Saunders finished the 2009-10 season fourth on the team in scoring averaging 9.6 points per game and was second in assists dishing out 3.4 per outing. Wynne netted 8.6 points per contest and handed out 4.1 assists per contest, tops on the team, even though she sat out an extended period of time with her knee injury.
Also back this season – and a welcome addition she will be in the paint for the Bulls – is Porche Grant who sat out last season for personal reasons. Grant, who along with Wynne are the only two members of the 2009 Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship team left in the program, averaged 6.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game during the 2008-09 title season and was a major factor in the frontcourt for USF during that championship run.
Last season, the Bulls posted a 15-16 record - the best in school history - and a 6-10 10th place finish in the BIG EAST Conference. USF advanced to its seventh straight postseason tournament facing Florida in the opening round of the WNIT.
This year the Bulls will kick off the 2010-11 campaign at home on Nov. 12 when they butt heads with in-state foe Jacksonville at 7 p.m.
Complete 2010-11 BIG EAST Women's Basketball Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Connecticut (225)
2. West Virginia (207)
3. Georgetown (186)
4. Notre Dame (177)
5. St. John’s (173)
6. DePaul (164)
7. Rutgers (131)
8. Louisville (125)
9. Syracuse (120)
10. Marquette (90)
11. USF (80)
12. Providence (70)
13. Pittsburgh (67)
14. Villanova (46)
15. Cincinnati (43)
16. Seton Hall (16)