By NOLAN KRAUSE
Special to GoUSFBulls.com
TAMPA - The Bulls need to swipe a win in the Steel City this weekend if they want to play in the Big East tournament Nov. 16-18 at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee, Wisc.
The top eight out of 14 teams make the Big East tournament and heading into the weekend the Bulls are on the outside looking in, as they currently sit in the ninth spot. The Bulls need a win at Pittsburgh 2 p.m. Saturday if they want to stay competitive and have a shot at making the tournament.
"(Pittsburgh is) another really good team and another team that's in a dogfight for the Big East tournament bid," head coach Courtney Draper said. "We're fluctuating in and out right there. We're holding on by a thread, but it's going to be a really important one this weekend against Pitt."
Currently the Big East rankings have teams 6-10 all within a half game of each other making these next couple of weekends very competitive as only three of those five teams will get in.
The Bulls hold tiebreakers over Villanova and St. Johns and are looking to hold the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh with a victory this weekend. Tiebreakers are important if teams finish the season with the same record in Big East play, and with five teams only separated by a half a match that could very likely happen. Villanova and St. Johns sit at 5-6 while Pitt is tied with USF at 5-7 in the Big East.
Three teams, Louisville, Marquette and Notre Dame, sit at 10-1 in Big East play and have already secured their spot in the tournament. That leaves five spots left to fill. Making it even tougher, Connecticut and Cincinnati both currently stand at 7-4 in the Big East giving them a two-win lead on St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova, and a two and a half game lead on USF and Pitt.
After the Bulls play Pitt this weekend they will only have three matches remaining on the season. Only two of those are in conference. The Bulls will finish their regular season playing Connecticut on Nov. 9 and hosting Georgetown on Nov. 11.
Pitt and USF have almost identical records, as they are both 5-7 in Big East games. Pitt has one more win than the Bulls as they are currently 14-12 and the Bulls are 13-12. Both teams know that a win this weekend greatly increases their chances of making it into the Big East tournament.
"They're another great team, they beat DePaul and took Notre Dame to four (sets)," Draper said. "We really have to work hard to prepare this week, and we have been, for a successful weekend ahead."
The Panthers are 5-4 at home on the season and are coming off a victory against fellow Big East opponent DePaul in five sets. The Bulls will be looking to turn things around after they struggled last weekend, suffering two losses to Big East opponents.
Normally the Bulls play two Big East games in a weekend span, but this weekend the team only has Pitt to plan for.
"Its kind of nice because they have been our travel partner, so we only have to prepare for one of them this weekend," Draper said. "So far every Big East weekend we've prepared for two, this weeks its just Pittsburgh, so they will have our total focus.