The end of the regular season for Big Ten women’s basketball nears, and it’s likely that Ohio State will need four straight wins and a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament to claim at least a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

A regular schedule would allow the Buckeyes four days to recover from a win Thursday over Rutgers and prepare for a game Tuesday at Illinois, but instead Ohio State faces a wrinkle that coach Kevin McGuff acknowledged is “odd.”

The No. 13 Buckeyes (20-5, 9-3 Big Ten) travel this weekend to South Florida, where they’ll squeeze in a final regular-season nonconference game nearly two months since their most recent one.

But, McGuff said, it’s odd with a purpose.

“They had a game through (the American Athletic Conference) that was going to be on ESPN2, and they wanted sort of a marquee matchup, and so they approached us about it. It’s good,” he said. “They’re really good, too, and they play really well at home, so it’s going to be a very challenging game.”

Part of the draw of a late-season game at South Florida (19-5, 9-2 AAC) is the test. The Bulls are the No. 2 team in an AAC dominated by top-ranked Connecticut, and they are a likely NCAA Tournament team that has lost only once at home — predictably, to UConn.

The timing is perhaps strange, but the goal in scheduling South Florida is similar to the thought process McGuff’s staff went through in scheduling Louisville and Stanford in November: rating percentage index.

In a weak Big Ten last season, the RPI was the dead weight that pulled Ohio State out of a top-four seed. This season, barring a late-season collapse, the RPI could be one of the Buckeyes' biggest assets. They entered the weekend No. 5 in Division I in RPI and strength of schedule.

“No question,” McGuff said when asked whether RPI was a consideration in playing South Florida. “We knew this was going to be a good RPI game and a road game, and so we decided to do it.”

It’s also a chance for Ohio State — more than a month before the the NCAA Tournament — to get a jump on the experience of playing a team it has not yet faced on short notice, similar to what takes place in the first weekend of the tournament.

“I don’t think it changes the mentality or preparation,” guard Sierra Calhoun said. “We’re gonna go into it like it’s any other game, watching film and studying their personnel and things like that.”

McGuff described South Florida as a well-coached team whose offensive movements and actions are tricky to defend, traits that amount to a “huge challenge.”

“One that will hopefully pay dividends in March when we start seeing a lot of different styles of play,” he said.