College Basketball Nation: Stan Heath

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

December, 7, 2012
The top of the league is rock-solid strong, with six nationally relevant programs in Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Notre Dame and, yes, I’m buying -- Pittsburgh.

After that, things already are muddy. Connecticut is better than anyone expected but irrelevant in the national picture, and Marquette remains a work in progress.

Everyone else has some major work to do.

1. Syracuse. With James Southerland doing a good Dion Waiters impression, starring as the sixth man, the Orange keep steamrolling the competition, getting Jim Boeheim within single digits of his 900th win in the process. Arkansas is the only team that has gotten within single digits of Syracuse this season. And the Razorbacks lost by nine.

2. Louisville. The Cards turned up their trademark withering defense against Charleston (the same team that beat Baylor, which beat Kentucky, if you’re into transitive theory), holding the Cougars to 38 points and forcing 27 turnovers. The only caveat: Louisville still isn’t great offensively. The Cards hit only four of 14 shots from behind the arc. Next up: UMKC.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats are quietly sensational. With Cashmere Wright saving the day with a buzzer-beating jumper against Alabama, Cincinnati remains undefeated, relying on a three-guard lineup that is as potent as any in the country.

4. Georgetown. Everyone wanted to talk about the Hoyas’ awful offense in the 37-36 victory against Tennessee last week. Fair enough. It was brutal. But the defense was impressive, as it was Tuesday against Texas, limiting the Longhorns to only 41. Georgetown is already very good offensively. The D could make for a scary combo.

5. Notre Dame. The scheduling gods were kind to the Irish -- offering them more than a week to savor the win against Kentucky. Notre Dame returns to action against Brown on Saturday.

6. Pittsburgh. The Panthers keep rolling, and in the process, they are coming up with a pretty sweet inside-outside package in the form of Tray Woodall and Talib Zanna. The point guard and the forward have been solid all season for Pitt, which sits at 8-1.

7. Connecticut. The Huskies' guards, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, are sensational. The question: Can they be enough for the long haul? That’s the biggest issue for UConn and coach Kevin Ollie these days, evidenced in the loss to North Carolina State, in which the Huskies were simply outmuscled inside.

8. Marquette. The Golden Eagles had the week off, welcome especially after the news that alum and former assistant Rick Majerus had died. Now Buzz Williams' team needs to regroup for Saturday's game against in-state rival Wisconsin. Marquette likes to score -- but can it against the Badgers?

9. Providence. Freshman Kris Dunn is still out with a shoulder injury, but the Friars keep winning. With seven scholarship players -- including a hampered Bryce Cotton -- Providence beat Rhode Island easily Thursday. And every day is closer to Dunn returning.

10. DePaul. The Blue Demons are on a three-game win streak, and while the quality of competition leaves much to be desired, building confidence is crucial right now if DePaul is going to make any strides come Big East time. The feasting should continue Sunday against two-win Milwaukee.

11. South Florida. That the Bulls have no inside game isn’t surprising -- Gus Gilchrist is gone -- but it’s still an absolute killer for Stan Heath’s squad. South Florida simply couldn’t compete on the glass against Oklahoma State, and until USF can find at least some semblance of a paint presence, it will be tough sledding.

12. St. John’s. The Red Storm keep building themselves large holes to climb out of. The problem: Sometimes you can’t finish that climb, especially if you’re not that adept at scoring to begin with. That’s why St. John’s took a bad loss against San Francisco. The Red Storm can cure what ails them against one-win Fordham in the Holiday Festival on Saturday.

13. Seton Hall. The Pirates needed a late 3-pointer to seal a victory Tuesday against New Jersey Institute of Technology. That’s not going to instill fear in anyone. Fuquan Edwin can’t do it alone, although he’s trying.

14. Rutgers. When Eli Carter can’t score, the Scarlet Knights can’t win. Plain and simple. Carter went 1-of-12, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range, and Rutgers lost Saturday at Ole Miss. That’s too much pressure on Carter.

15. Villanova. Things are not pretty on the Main Line, where the Wildcats are simply a mess. Yes, Villanova beat Vanderbilt, but that says as much about the Commodores’ struggles as it does Villanova’s strengths. This is a team without a rudder right now, ineffective defensively and confused offensively -- and rival Saint Joseph’s is salivating at all of that ahead of their meeting Tuesday.
1. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he can go a variety of ways to fill senior forward Mike Bruesewitz's absence. Bruesewitz is out for a month while recovering from a severe cut on his right leg that required surgery after he crashed into the basket standard last Tuesday. Ryan said he could go with a combination of sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky, sophomore guard Traevon Jackson and freshman forward Sam Dekker or go smaller along the frontline. He said that junior guard Josh Gasser has improved greatly over the summer. Gasser has to be the lead guard after the departure of Jordan Taylor. The injury occurred because of Bruesewitz was diving for a loose ball, like no other player. Ryan said he it could only happen to “three guys I know [former Badgers] Mike Heineman and Joe Krabbenhoft and Mike [Bruesewitz].’’

2. Cincinnati is a trendy pick in the Big East and for good reason. The Bearcats are fully capable of challenging anyone for second (with the assumption that Louisville is the champ). Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said Sunday night he has the best chemistry he’s had at UC. “The depth could be tremendous. I love our potential defensively. It’s the most athletic team we’ve ever had and we have veteran winners." Cronin said that after a few days of practice. If he keeps seeing this potential in January then the Bearcats will be a formidable force.

3. South Florida sophomore point guard Anthony Collins, who averaged 5.2 assists a game, should be ready for full practice and contact Tuesday after missing the first four days due to a concussion, according to coach Stan Heath. The Bulls, who reached the NCAA tournament last season, have depth with South Alabama transfer Martino Brock available. Heath said Brock is a combo guard who is extremely athletic and tough. Brock averaged 14.2 points a game as a sophomore at South Alabama.
On Friday, South Florida announced some rather positive all-around athletics news: Both football coach Skip Holtz and men's hoops coach Stan Heath were awarded contract extensions last week. Holtz's deal was extended until 2017; Heath's deal was extended three years, through the 2017-18 season. This kind of confidence in both revenue-producing programs is a sign that things are looking up at South Florida. It's a positive all-around step.

[+] EnlargeStan Heath
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireStan Heat led USF to a 22-14 overall record last year, including a 12-6 record in the Big East.
In Heath's case specifically, it's impossible to argue the contract wasn't well-deserved. In fact, it's a good opportunity to evaluate and place in context just what Heath accomplished at USF last year.

The Bulls are not a traditional basketball power, and that is putting it lightly. According to my trusty ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia, South Florida has never won a regular-season conference title, even back when it was a member of the Sun Belt; its only accomplishment of note is a 1990 Sun Belt conference tournament title. Until last season, the Bulls had made exactly two NCAA tournament appearances, and had spent a total of zero -- yes, zero -- weeks in the AP top 20/25 all-time. The history of South Florida basketball has been defined by apathy. You could argue this isn't really a "history" at all.

Not only did Heath get the Bulls to a 22-14 record and a place in the NCAA tournament last season, just the third in school history, he also rewired his team's approach and laid a foundation for immediate future success. In 2011, the Bulls played a brutally slow, aesthetically agonizing style of basketball. It wasn't pretty, but the defense it bred -- hard-nosed, tough half-court defense that ranked No. 13 in the country in defensive efficiency -- just plain worked. Meanwhile, Heath handed the offensive reigns over to a freshman, point guard Anthony Collins, who executed the dribble-around-for-30-seconds-and-then-try-to-score offense admirably well. Now, with Collins a likely four-year starter, the Bulls have a clear baseline in place.

There is much work to be done at USF, obviously. The fans still need to come around, and Heath hasn't turned the tourney appearance into many highly touted recruits in either the 2012 or 2013 classes. But when you compare where South Florida was for much of its history, and you consider the league it plays in, and the frontier it is chasing, it's clear that what Heath started when he took over in 2007 is finally beginning to bear fruit. The Bulls aren't going to be competing for a national title anytime soon, but they're a college basketball entity now. That's major progress, in and of itself.
1. Gregg Marshall isn’t a lock to be the next head coach at South Carolina just because he was once the head coach at Winthrop (located in Rock Hill, S.C.). He is extremely comfortable at Wichita State and according to a source with direct knowledge of his situation, it will take a monumental offer to pry him away from the Shockers.

2. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy could be in play at his alma mater, UAB, but there are still a lot of moving parts to see if this occurs. Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne has strong ties to Mississippi and is expected to be in play at Mississippi State. But this is a big two-week stretch in the job carousel for hot names like Shaka Smart (VCU), Steve Prohm (Murray State), Stan Heath (USF) and John Groce (Ohio).

3. The NCAA still hasn’t decided where it will put the East Regional in 2013. The other three sites are set: West (Los Angeles), Midwest (Indianapolis), Southwest (Dallas). This is the 75th anniversary of the tournament so the NCAA is taking its time. Here’s a suggestion: find a way to get it into Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Final Four is in Atlanta.

Previewing Nashville: Sunday's games

March, 18, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Taking a look at the NCAA tournament third-round games on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena:

No. 12 seed South Florida (22-13) vs. No. 13 seed Ohio University (28-7), 7:10 p.m. ET

The long shots are always the best stories this time of year, the tiny universities that come out of nowhere to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

South Florida’s hardly a tiny university. But when you start thinking hoops and USF in the same breath, and then throw the Big East into the mix, it’s hard to find anybody who really thought the Bulls would be here.

Well, they’re here, and they face Ohio University on Sunday night for a chance to make it to their first Sweet 16.

Not bad for a team that was squarely on the bubble when the NCAA pairings came out and a team that lost to Penn State and Auburn earlier this season.

For that matter, it was hard to see any of this coming before the season. The Bulls finished 10-23 a year ago under Stan Heath, his third losing season at USF, and there were a lot of people wondering if this might be his last season.

The Big East coaches picked USF to finish 14th out of 16 teams in the preseason.

Heath, who was fired at Arkansas after five seasons, had other ideas, and so did his team.

The Bulls scrapped their way to a 12-6 record in the Big East, their first winning conference record since joining the league in 2005. They squeezed into the NCAA tournament as one of the final teams in, and as a No. 12 seed, had to play in the first round in Dayton, Ohio.

They beat California late Wednesday night, traveled to Nashville on Thursday and then polished off Temple a day later, giving them their first two NCAA tournament wins in the program's history.

Even when their seed came out, the Bulls’ players were oblivious.

The only thing that mattered to them was that they were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage -- and they’re still playing.

“We’re just happy to be here, and we’re going to go out and play basketball, and regardless of what team we have in front of us, whatever the seed may be, that’s just a number,” USF senior forward Ron Anderson Jr. said. “At the end of the day, it’s just five guys going against five guys.”

Heath is no stranger to deep runs in the NCAA tournament. He worked under Tom Izzo at Michigan State and made three Final Four trips with the Spartans. Then as head coach at Kent State, Heath took the Golden Flashes to the Elite Eight in 2002.

That magical run got him the job at Arkansas, but he was ousted after five seasons.

He’s proving now in his fifth season at USF -- with the Bulls’ black-and-blue brand of defense and their unselfishness on offense -- that he hasn’t forgotten how to navigate his way through March.

“The kids are so excited to be here,” Heath said. “They’re so excited to be a part of the NCAA tournament, and now we’re in the third round. I just don’t see them not seizing this moment. I just don’t see it.”

Who to watch: Ohio junior guard D.J. Cooper. You might want to loosen up the old neck muscles, because Cooper is an absolute blur on the basketball court. He’s a 5-11, 165-pound left-hander who can shoot it from deep and beat pretty much anybody he wants off the dribble. When his outside shot is going, he’s almost impossible to defend. He doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the field (35 percent), but he's fearless when it comes to taking the ball to the basket and also knows how to get his teammates involved. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Cooper play much this season, do yourself a favor and keep your eye on No. 5. He’s a treat to watch play.

What to watch: The scoreboard. With the way these two teams play defense, it’s not a stretch to think that the first team to 55 may win. South Florida is big and physical, and the Bulls swarm opponents any time they get close to the paint. They held California to 13 points in the first half of their opening-round game and then suffocated Temple 58-44 on Friday. Ohio doesn’t have South Florida’s size or length, but the Bobcats are one of the best teams in the country at turning teams over. They forced an average of 17.7 turnovers per game during the season and held Michigan to 40.7 percent shooting on Friday in their 65-60 win over the Wolverines.

No. 3 seed Florida State (25-9) vs. No. 6 seed Cincinnati (25-10), 9:40 p.m. ET

One team came within a game of winning its conference tournament.

The other team did win its conference tournament.

Both teams will tell you that they play in the toughest hoops conference in the land.

It’s the ACC versus the Big East on Sunday night in the third round of the East Regional, and while their styles may not be exactly the same, Cincinnati and Florida State have the identical mentality when it comes to living to see another day in the NCAA tournament.

“You’ve got to train your guys to play with tremendous toughness,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “If you let some of these teams run their offense, they’re so good. The coaching is so good. The skill level is so sky-high. You’re going to give up baskets.

“You’ve got to be able to take people out of what they’re doing to try and create some easy baskets for your team, because it’s so hard to score on the other end.”

It’s a way of life in the Big East, according to the Cincinnati players.

“Every game, it’s like you’re playing for your life,” Cincinnati senior guard Dion Dixon said. “That’s why you see so many games come down to the end, and it’s not always pretty.

“But what it does is prepare you for this. One bad game, and you’re gone. Your back’s to the wall as soon as you step onto the court. That’s OK with us because we feel like we’re at our best when our backs are to the wall.”

The Bearcats’ only two losses since the middle of February were to a pair of teams still playing. They lost in the Big East tournament championship game to Louisville (50-44) and at South Florida (46-45) back on Feb. 26.

“You’ve got to be able to grind, and when you get good looks, you’ve got to be able to make clutch shots, especially in the second half,” Dixon said. “We’ve been able to do that.”

As equipped as the Bearcats think they are to advance to the second week of the tournament, the Seminoles are equally nasty on defense and took down both Duke and North Carolina en route to winning the ACC tournament championship.

And consider this: They won their second-round NCAA tournament game on Friday over St. Bonaventure despite their leading scorer, junior guard Michael Snaer, going scoreless for the first time in his career.

“We lean on each other and don’t have to depend on just one player or one aspect of our team,” Florida State senior forward Bernard James said. “That’s something that we’ve emphasized, being able to win games in a lot of different ways. But the constant with us is always going to be our defense.”

Who to watch: Michael Snaer. He was 0-for-7 against St. Bonaventure and didn’t score a point. Snaer averaged 14.5 points during the season and shot 42.1 percent from the 3-point line. The chances of him going scoreless again are about as good as Steve Spurrier showing up behind the Florida State bench with his face painted up in Seminoles colors. Snaer’s too good of a player not to bounce back, but the Bearcats will work hard to keep him from getting into any kind of groove early.

What to watch: The zone. Cincinnati has been able to change up its defenses and again had some success with the 2-3 zone on Friday. Cronin was pleased with the way the Bearcats rebounded out of the zone in their second-round win over Texas. He also thinks the zone helps get senior forward Yancy Gatessome rest. The 6-foot-10 James is Florida State’s main threat inside, but the Seminoles also start 6-11 center Xavier Gibson.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Breaking down No. 12 seed South Florida’s 58-44 victory over No. 5 seed Temple on Friday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament Midwest Regional at Bridgestone Arena:

Overview: Nobody uglies up a game better than South Florida, and the Bulls did it again Friday after smothering California on Wednesday night in their first-round game. South Florida set a Big East record this season by allowing just 56.8 points per game. Temple was fortunate to get to 40 after being beaten, battered and bruised by a South Florida defense that is relentless. There's no such thing as a good look against the Bulls, especially anywhere near the goal.

Amazingly, the Bulls were able to win despite making just three of 27 shots from the field (11.1 percent) in the first half. Of course, the Owls got off only 13 shots in the first half and couldn't take advantage of South Florida's cold shooting.

South Florida, which trailed 19-15 at the half, opened the second half with an 11-2 run. A 3-point spree fueled by back-to-back treys from Toarlyn Fitzpatrick gave the Bulls a 14-point lead, and they’re simply too good defensively to lose that kind of lead.

Turning point: It looked like Temple might be on the verge of a comeback after trailing by as many as 14 points with 10:34 to play. The Owls pulled within 41-38 on Ramone Moore’s 3-pointer, and the momentum was shifting in their direction. On the next possession, South Florida’s Victor Rudd Jr. found himself out top with the shot clock winding down and fired up a 3-pointer that banked in off the glass with 5:11 remaining.

Key player: Rudd scored 17 points and was 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He had 13 of his points in the second half and made all three of his treys after the break.

Key stat: With both Ohio and South Florida winning Friday, that means either a No. 12 or a No. 13 seed will advance to the Sweet 16 from the Midwest Regional.

Miscellaneous: South Florida now has evened its all-time NCAA tournament record at 2-2 after coming into this one 0-2. ... The Bulls were 6-of-8 from 3-point land in the second half. ... In their two tournament games this year, the Bulls have allowed a total of 98 points. They held Cal to 54 on Wednesday in Dayton. ... The Owls (24-8) now have lost in their opening game of the NCAA tournament in four of their past five appearances.

What’s next: South Florida (22-13) advances to the third round of the NCAA tournament and will take on No. 13 seed Ohio on Sunday. The Bobcats defeated Michigan in the earlier game Friday night.

Previewing Nashville: Evening games

March, 16, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Now we turn our attention to Friday's evening session in Music City:

No. 4 Michigan (24-9) vs. No. 13 Ohio (27-7), 7:20 p.m. ET

What to watch: Anybody who’s watched John Beilein’s teams play offense at Michigan, and West Virginia before that, knows how frustrating it can be defending his system in the half-court. The Wolverines are going to shoot 3-pointers and layups and not a lot else. They’re also relentless with their high picks and backdoor cuts to the basket and don’t turn it over much -- only 10.9 turnovers per game. But in Ohio University, Michigan gets a team that doesn’t mind grinding it out on defense. The Bobcats like to trap and really challenge teams with their on-the-ball pressure. They’re forcing 17.7 turnovers per game and defend the 3-point shot as well as anybody in the country. Opponents are shooting just 29.6 percent from 3-point range against the Bobcats, who are 60-19 under John Groce when they hold opponents under 70 points.

Who to watch: Michigan point guard Trey Burke was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the media. He leads the Wolverines in scoring (14.8 points) and assists (4.6). He broke Michigan’s 27-year-old freshman record for assists in a season and has 151 entering the Ohio game; Gary Grant had the old record, dishing out 140 assists during the 1984-85 season. Burke had been pretty good at taking care of the ball until the 77-55 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, when he turned it over eight times. He also shot just 1-of-11 from the field in that game, so you know he’s been bouncing off the walls to get back onto the court.

Why to watch: Losing to Ohio State in anything is a nightmare for Michigan. So it goes without saying that the 22-point loss to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament still stings. The only thing that could make it worse would be losing to Ohio University in the NCAA tournament. The good news for Michigan fans is that the Wolverines are 8-0 in games following losses this season. But Ohio comes into this game having won eight of its past nine games. “We’re playing with confidence right now. We’re playing together as a team," Ohio junior guard D.J. Cooper said. "We’re playing pretty good defense. That’s what we’ve been relying on all year. We’re going to stick together and stay together through the tournament."

What they’re saying: “This is Ohio versus Michigan, and it’s about two teams competing and that want the same thing, and that’s to survive and advance. Every guy on our team needs to be focused on their role to help Ohio do well.” --Ohio University coach John Groce

“I think everybody is in that same boat. All 68 teams are trying to get to that point where it just becomes magical for them, and it’s so much fun if they’re successful in that dream.” --Michigan coach John Beilein

Around the rim: Michigan is 11-0 this season when sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. shoots 50 percent from the field or better. ... Ohio junior guard Cooper is one of two Division I players over the past 12 years to have averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals over an entire season. ... Cooper, who’s left-handed, recorded the first triple-double in Ohio history earlier this season in a victory at Portland when he scored 14 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and handed out 10 assists. ... Cooper isn’t a great shooter. In fact, he’s shooting just 34.8 percent from the field this season. ... The Wolverines are 18-0 this season when leading at the half.

No. 5 Temple (24-7) vs. No. 12 South Florida (21-13), 9:50 p.m. ET

What to watch: Temple has won 13 of its past 15 games and sports a spiffy 24-7 record. The Owls are no stranger to the NCAA tournament, either: This is their fifth consecutive appearance. What they’d like to change is how long they hang around in the postseason. They haven’t won more than one game in the NCAA tournament since 2001, when they advanced to the Elite Eight under then-coach John Chaney. It’s Fran Dunphy’s show now, and the Owls have a veteran team built to make a deep run. They boast one of the more potent backcourts in college basketball and start three seniors and two juniors. All five starters average at least 9.1 points per game.

Who to watch: Temple senior guard Ramone Moore ranks second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 17.7 points per game. He’s one of three players on Temple’s team to have made 50 or more 3-pointers this season. Not only that, but Khalif Wyatt, Juan Fernandez and Moore shoot better than 38 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-4 Moore has scored in double figures in all but two games this season.

Why to watch: Forget jet lag. South Florida’s players insist they were ready to play after knocking off California in the first round late Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio. The Bulls caught an early flight to Nashville on Thursday and said the short turnaround won’t be a problem. It was only a year ago that VCU came out of the first round and made it all the way to the Final Four. Plus, South Florida coach Stan Heath said, it’s not all bad to have already played a game. “We got our feet wet a little bit and got out there and maybe worked out the kinks and the nervousness and all those different things," Heath said. "The other team is a little more well-rested, may have a little more energy, but may not have the same rhythm that we may have from the previous game.”

What they’re saying: “We have to come out aggressive. They do a great job defensively. I mean, they held California to 13 points yesterday in the first half, which is great. But we’ve got to come out and play our basketball, got to make the extra pass, hit the open shots … and they don’t let you speed them up. They do a great job of getting their shots and slowing the game down.” --Temple guard Ramone Moore

“I said in Dayton that playing defense has kind of been our foundation. It really becomes a problem for a lot of teams. A lot of teams pride themselves on scoring 80 points or in the 70s, and they feel like if they can get to 80 points or in the 70s that they have a good chance of winning. For us, we feel like if we can keep them below the 60s that we have a good chance of winning.” --South Florida forward Ron Anderson Jr.

Around the rim: South Florida set the Big East Conference scoring defense record this season by allowing just 56.8 points per game. The Bulls have held 31 of their 34 opponents under 70 points. ... Anderson transferred to South Florida from Kansas State following the 2009 season. His other finalist when trying to decide where to continue his college basketball career was Temple. ... Heath said his players were wired following the 65-54 victory over Cal on Wednesday night. “I know the guys didn’t sleep much last night. They were watching 'SportsCenter' at 2 o’clock in the morning. They were watching each other’s dunks and getting excited. I was trying to put them to bed,” Heath joked. ... Dunphy said he heard someone say that going against South Florida’s defense was “like going to get a root canal.” ... Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who faced South Florida in Big East play, said what makes the Bulls so good defensively is how well they rotate, and when they do, the guy rotating over is anywhere from 6-7 to 6-11. ... Temple will be joining the Big East in football next season and then in all sports in 2013-14.

DAYTON, Ohio -- The South Florida Bulls don’t play fast. They don’t light up the scoreboard or crack nightly Top-10 highlight reels.

“Ugly” is the word that’s typically used to describe their rugged style, which helped them establish a Big East record for scoring defense (56.9 ppg).

And following their 65-54 victory over California in the First Four at the University of Dayton Arena Wednesday, the Bulls made it clear that they don’t care about their critics’ slights.

“I know people have their opinions. So they can say what they want,” said Anthony Collins, who scored 12 points. “But we're just going to play our style of play and take our time and get whatever shot we want.”

[+] EnlargeSouth Florida Bulls
Greg Bartram/US PresswireThe Bulls stymied Cal's offense and kept the Bears to only 13 points in the first half.
The Bulls, a team that entered the game averaging 59.2 ppg, were on pace to score nearly 80 points at one point in the first half. They held a 36-13 lead at halftime, after finishing the first half on a 14-0 run.

Victor Rudd Jr. led the team with 15 points and Augustus Gilchrist added 11.

Cal registered 5 field goals (20.8 percent clip from the field), missed all four of its 3-point attempts and was outscored 20-2 in the paint before halftime.

South Florida’s uncharacteristic offensive surge continued in the second half along with the crippling defense. The Bulls held a 32-point lead with 8:51 to play. They didn’t maintain that margin. But they never allowed the Bears to make a BYU-like push down the stretch.

In the end, South Florida’s abrasive, unsexy defense and methodical offense resulted in the program’s first-ever tournament victory. And that’s all that mattered to Stan Heath, who ended South Florida’s stint as the only Big East team that hadn’t earned an NCAA tourney berth.

“Well, we're all thrilled. Our president, my athletic director, it's always great to keep your bosses happy, and we're thrilled. And we didn't want to just come here for one game,” Heath said after the game. “We were excited to get in here. But we did want to prove a little bit that we deserve and we belong and we're legit. And I think the kids took that to heart. But it's a building process and we took a big step in the right direction today. But we want to take some more steps as well.”

After reaching their average (59 points) with 7:09 to play, the Bulls pulled back and worked the shot clock. With a second round shot at 5-seed Temple on the line, they didn’t want to squander their sizable lead, especially after witnessing Iona blow a 25-point edge in Dayton Tuesday.

“Yeah, we just wanted to come out and stay aggressive. And last night, you know, the teams, when I watched them play in the night before, that the teams played up and down real fast and was scoring the ball,” Collins said. “But then … when they had the big lead, they still was coming down and shooting fast shots. We wanted to go down also, but also take a good shot so the other team couldn't come right back down fast and get a better shot.”

The Bears averaged 71.7 ppg entering their loss to South Florida. But South Florida held Cal’s top scorers Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe to 21 combined points and a 7-for-24 clip from the field.

The Bulls clamped Cal’s scorers with a defensive philosophy that’s carried them all season, one that’s not TV friendly but worked for them.

“We get mad when people score, no matter what kind of bucket it is,” said Rudd. “And that's what makes us have people scoring in 50, 40, because we don't like it when people score at all, not even a free throw. So we get mad at each other, and that's how we play great defense.”
NEW YORK – Somewhere in Philadelphia, Bruiser Flint should be crafting his argument:

"The Top 100 Reasons Why My Team Deserves To Be in the NCAA Tournament."

South Florida provided 99 for the Drexel coach.

The Bulls, fighting to prove why they belonged in the bracket, instead gave the selection committee a litany of reasons for why they didn’t.

Forget the RPI and the 1-9 record against RPI top-50 teams. Forget the unbalanced schedule that worked against the Bulls in terms of SOS.

Just go to the eye test and watch the final few minutes of regulation and the extra period in their 57-53 overtime loss to Notre Dame. The federal government could put it on a loop to force bad guys to confess.

It was equal parts painful and foolish, a one-two self-inflicted punch that could prove to be a knockout.

Missed layups, missed front ends of one-and-ones, turnovers, dribbling aimlessly for 23 of the final 25 seconds with a four-point deficit and throwing the ball out of bounds on a last-ditch attempt to win it.

How did USF blow it? Let us count the ways.

And the Bulls blew it on a bubblicious night when Texas and Cal likely played their way in with wins and North Carolina State and Colorado State at least played their way into the discussion.

Instead, USF joined Washington, Northwestern and Mississippi State in the losers’ bracket of teams that will spend an uncomfortable Sunday evening.

[+] EnlargeStan Heath
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireStan Heath's USF squad will be biting its nails ahead of Selection Sunday after an ugly loss.
Of course, beauty or ugliness, as Stan Heath said, is in the eye of the beholder -- and when the USF coach gazed upon the mess, he saw a masterpiece.

“Hopefully we erased any doubt of what kind of basketball team we are,’’ he said. “We belong. We definitely belong. Giving that kind of effort on the defensive end, you have to really appreciate when you have teams that sacrifice themselves on the defensive end. People on the outside, the casual observer, don’t know how difficult that is, don’t understand that. Teams like us not only get in, they win and advance.’’

Heath’s assessment of his defense is fair. The Bulls do play hard and they challenge shots, using their size inside to make everything difficult. In one ridiculous effort, Gus Gilchrist managed to block Jerian Grant despite falling backward and out of bounds.

But this wasn’t about the defense making things ugly. Good defense should be lauded.

This is about the offense making things uglier.

As active and disruptive as the Bulls’ defense is, their offense is that lackluster. It is like watching chess, with players just standing around like statues.

South Florida led by three with 2:45 to play in a game when three points might as well have been 300, and lost. Frankly, it lost multiple times.

First, when with 33 seconds to play and USF up 45-44, Jawanza Poland got out on the break with absolutely no one but a row of cheerleaders near him and the basket ... and missed a layup.

“He should have finished that layup,’’ Heath said. “He’s point-blank, all by himself. He makes it and the game is over. It’s done.’’

Second, when Poland, strangely fouled by Scott Martin after that miss, clanked the front end of a one-and-one.

Third, when Poland made the worst 33 seconds of his life even worse, fouled Pat Connaughton.

Because the Irish were every bit as culpable in this disaster, Connaughton naturally missed one of two free throws to tie it with 26 seconds left.

“That was unusual,’’ Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said with a chuckle. “We threw a bomb to Pat and he got fouled. I thought, this is getting wild.’’

Ah, but there were five more minutes of wild to come. Notre Dame edged out to a four-point lead when Eric Atkins, without a field goal in the entire game, drained a 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play.

USF got the ball back and point guard Anthony Collins showed all the urgency of a senior citizen on a freeway.

It would have been a comedy of errors if weren’t so hard to understand and if the potential ramifications weren’t so bad.

“I’ll be honest, I won’t sleep,’’ Heath said. “You want to hear your name called on Sunday at 6 o’clock. I think we’ve done a great job by putting ourselves in a great position. I think our team is worthy. But there’s some people that have a lot of information that make wise decisions and we’ll let our case rest with them.’’

There is no shame in losing to Notre Dame. The Irish are a very good team, owners of a 22-10 record now and a legit top Big East squad.

And Heath should be commended for what he’s done. He has retooled a team that won 10 games all of last season into one that won 12 in the Big East alone this season.

But at this time of year it is not enough to talk about what you’ve done. You have to compare your results and your game to others.

You have to look like an NCAA tournament team -- and in its last game before Selection Sunday, USF didn’t.

South Florida: A bubble test case

March, 8, 2012

NEW YORK -- South Florida is a lot of things:

Tough -- especially on defense.

Hard to watch -- especially on offense.

But are the Bulls an NCAA tournament team? No one is quite sure.

South Florida beat Villanova 56-47 in the second round of the Big East tournament on Wednesday night, tacking on yet another win in a record-setting season that may or may not be rewarded. Fortunately for USF, the committee does not judge on style points, or the turnover-plagued game played in the mud against Nova would automatically disqualify the Bulls.

It has been 20 years since the Bulls made their last (and the program's second) appearance in the NCAA tournament. But with Selection Sunday days away, the NCAA weather in Tampa remains cloudy with a chance of murky.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Collins
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireSouth Florida and Anthony Collins are making the case the Bulls deserve an NCAA tournament berth.
USF is 20-12 and now 13-6 against its fellow Big East members, numbers that ordinarily would be no-brainers for the selection committee. But on the same day that the Big East announced yet another new member -- Temple joins for football next season and all sports in 2013 -- the Bulls are a test case for why more isn’t always better.

With so many teams to jockey around, the league is left to make do with an unbalanced schedule. The predicted haves are front-loaded; the expected have-nots given slightly easier runs.

That’s worked both for and against South Florida this season.

By playing a less than top-heavy league schedule -- Pittsburgh, Providence and Villanova were the Bulls’ repeat opponents -- USF has been able to build up that impressive league record.

Yet by playing an easier schedule and winning just two (Cincinnati and Louisville) against the upper-tier teams, USF hasn’t been able to pad its NCAA résumé.

Which is exactly why the Bulls still loiter on the bubble.

“Twelve wins plus a tournament win in this league and there’s questions,’’ USF coach Stan Heath said. “I don’t know why there should be, but there are. It’s good fuel for us. We continue to use whatever we can to keep us hungry and those are things that motivate us.’’

According to ESPN Stats and Info, in the past 15 years, 10 Big East teams with an RPI better than 50 have failed to make the tournament field, including Cincinnati at 40 in 2006.

On the flip side, in the last 15 years, five Big East teams with an RPI worse than 50 have received at-large bids, including Marquette, which entered the tourney at 64 a year ago.

Right now the Bulls are at 44, with a 6-9 record against top-100 teams and a 1-8 mark against top-50 teams.

That’s a bubble team.

But then again, this is also a Big East tournament quarterfinal team. See the problem?

A simple cure, of course, would be a win against Notre Dame on Thursday night and a berth in the Big East semis.

It would be virtually impossible, you’d think, to keep South Florida out then.

But is it reasonable to allow a 30-plus-game season to come down to just one game? Riddle, meet enigma.

“I think we just want to win,’’ forward Victor Rudd said. “We’ve got to win to get in the tournament, so that’s what we’re going to do.’’

One thing is clear: What Heath has done is no small feat.

South Florida is a vagabond program, a lifelong conference hopper. The Bulls started in the Sun Belt, jumped to the Metro, became Conference USA and then, riding the coattails of its football team, jumped to the Big East in 2005.

Which was great for the pigskin, but you don’t grow a Big East basketball team among the retirees of Tampa easily. USF was more midseason destination, offering a few sunny days in January and February, than a game for teams to really concern themselves with.

So to finish 12-6 in the league, even if the wins weren't against the best the Big East has to offer, counts for the program.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,’’ Heath said. “This shows that our team has improved quite a bit, but we want more. We’re still very hungry."

1. Stan Heath has had quite a run in his career. He was at Kent State for one season and went to the Elite Eight. He landed a big money job in Arkansas and when he got run out of Fayetteville, he landed on his feet at South Florida. It appeared he could be on shaky ground, but now the Bulls are on the verge of a getting a possible NCAA berth. He was named Big East coach of the year Tuesday after winning 12 conference games. The Bulls better beat Villanova Wednesday to ensure the selection committee doesn’t leave out USF.

2. Marquette coach Buzz Williams was genuinely giddy about Jae Crowder being named Big East player of the year. Williams fully grasped the value and all-around play of Crowder as he was the most consistent player for the Golden Eagles. Kevin Jones had a phenomenal season for West Virginia. But it’s hard to give Jones the award since the Mountaineers finished much lower in the standings.

3. It’s odd how some times these seasons come full circle. Detroit was the preseason favorite in the Horizon League but fumbled its way through the season. But Tuesday night, Ray McCallum and his son, Ray McCallum Jr., led the Titans to a convincing road win at Valparaiso to earn the NCAA’s automatic berth. Valpo will at least go to the NIT after winning the regular season. It has been quite a season for Valpo coach Bryce Drew and his family, as his parents Homer and Janet battled cancer. Drew has done a tremendous job coaching that team and deserves plenty of praise for doing so under emotional duress.
Before they began to celebrate, the South Florida Bulls breathed a sigh of relief.

The final horn had just sounded in their 58-51 victory at Louisville Wednesday, and the Bulls fully grasped the magnitude of the situation.

“So much was at stake,” senior Ron Anderson said.

A spot near the top of the Big East standings, a road win against a quality opponent, a victory that will help its NCAA tournament hopes. South Florida touts 19 wins, but none were as big as the triumph over the Cardinals.

One season after finishing 3-13 in the Big East, Stan Heath’s squad will take a 12-5 conference record into Saturday’s regular-season finale against West Virginia. A win over the Mountaineers could boost the Bulls all the way to No. 2 in the league standings. More importantly, it would all but ensure South Florida a spot in the NCAA tournament.

If the Bulls are not already in.

Beating Louisville on the road Wednesday gave South Florida the one thing it lacked -- a victory against an upper-echelon Big East team away from home.

With underrated freshman point guard Anthony Collins teaming with Jawanza Poland in the backcourt and veterans such as Augustus Gilchrist and Anderson down low, South Florida has one of the better starting lineups in the Big East.

The Bulls average just 60 points a game and don’t have a single player with a double-digit scoring average. But opponents are scoring just 57.4 points and shooting only 39.2 percent against South Florida, making Heath’s squad one of the best defensive teams in the country. The Bulls haven’t allowed more than 56 points in a game in nearly a month.

On Thursday, Anderson, a senior, spoke with about South Florida’s success thus far and about what lies ahead.

Ron Anderson
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaBacked by a bullish defense, Ron Anderson and USF have built a strong NCAA tourney résumé.
What was it like in the locker room after you beat Louisville?

Ron Anderson: It was really emotional. Everyone understood how important the game was. Everyone wanted to win the game so bad that, finally, when the horn went off and there was no more time left, there was a big sigh of relief. We knew what was on the line. In order for us to continue to prove ourselves, we needed to get a quality win. Louisville is an excellent team. Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame coach. That’s as hard of a place as anywhere to win -- especially on Senior Night. I heard today that they hadn’t lost in 14 years on Senior Night. That’s an accomplishment in itself.

What did Coach Heath say to you in the locker room afterward?

RA: Just to be excited, to enjoy the moment, but not be satisfied. He told us we had to keep pushing. That’s the mentality of the team right now. That’s the phrase we use in the locker room: never be satisfied. When we don’t have any games left and Selection Sunday rolls around, we can sit back and see if we should be in the discussion. For now we’re just going to continue to work hard and go out and play the right way.

What’s the main thing that’s happened that’s enabled this team to turn itself around?

RA: We had talent last year, but we had mental lapses in games that caused us not to win. We couldn’t close out games. We had a lot of new guys last year, too. So with so many people having an extra year of experience ... it builds confidence and chemistry. Plus, we always knew we could play. When you put those pieces together and combine them with a great freshman point guard, you’ve got the recipe for success.

What makes this team so good on the defensive end?

RA: It’s a passion. We pride ourselves on that. We know that if we play good defense and get stops, our offense will fall into place and we’ll make shots. Defense is about willpower and refusing to let your man score. If you go out there with that mentality, just thinking that you’re not going to get scored on -- and you know you’re on the court with four other guys who feel the same way --things are really going to work in your favor. That’s been our backbone this season.

Did Coach Heath do anything to instill that passion in you, or did it just happen naturally?

RA: All of our practices have been really intense, especially since conference play has started. Just really intense, really competitive. Augustus Gilchrist and I are out there banging like it’s a real game. We don’t want anyone in our team to slack off on the court. It’s all about pride.

What’s next for this team?

RA: Things have been going really well, but Coach Heath and his staff have done an excellent job of making sure we stay the course. We’re taking it day by day. What’s next for this team is Saturday at noon against West Virginia. If we take care of business there, there’s a chance we could move up in the standings and get a double-bye in the Big East tournament. Guys know what’s at stake. We’re working hard for it. We’re just excited about the opportunity. We’re not just playing for us. We’re playing for our university. We’re playing for all the guys from past years that have put in blood, sweat and tears. Every year, people work hard and try to succeed. We’re just fortunate that everything fell into place this year. Honestly, when I leave after this year, I want to be able to look back and think that we started a tradition here.

You mentioned “playing for the university” ... what’s the buzz about you guys been like on campus? How much has the support increased?

RA: Just like with any team that begins to win, the buzz has picked up a little bit. We understand that with winning comes more support. We embrace that. People are starting to understand that good things happen when you work hard. I’m so excited for Saturday’s game. It’s my Senior Day. I feel like we’re going to have one of the biggest crowds here that the school has ever seen. They’re saying it’s going to be the biggest home game in 20 years. Still, all the outside distractions, we can’t really worry about right now.

Casting our ballots: Big East

February, 29, 2012
Editor’s Note: To see our expert picks for each of the nation’s 12 top conferences, click here. To cast your vote in these races, visit SportsNation.

A quick look at the player and coach of the year races in the Big East:

Player of the year

Syracuse is far and away the best team in the Big East Conference.

Which is great when it comes to winning games, but a real problem when you’re trying to sort out player of the year trophies.

Usually you can at least find one obvious candidate from the best team in the conference. With the Orange, that’s impossible. Together they are unbeatable, but individually they almost cancel one another out. Is Scoop Jardine more valuable than Kris Joseph? Does Joseph do more than Fab Melo? How about Dion Waiters, the guy who comes off the bench to rank second on the team in scoring?

[+] EnlargeJohnson-Odom
Howard Smith/US PresswireMarquette's Darius Johnson-Odom's 18.4 points per game could earn him player of the year honors in the Big East.
All four will get and deserve votes but Syracuse is truly a sum-of-its-parts squad, one where every piece is critical but none more than the others. Someone on this team could win Big East POY -- and if we were voting, we’d lean Waiters -- but it’s not likely.

So who are the obvious candidates? There are two front-runners – Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones.

Johnson-Odom has been terrific for a team that has been rock steady all year. Second in the Big East (behind Jones) in scoring, he averages 18.4 points per game. He’s scored in double figures in every game he’s played in save one -- suspended for the first half against West Virginia, he had nine.

Jones, in the meantime, had to be great for coach Bob Huggins’ young team to survive -- and the senior forward has been great. Along with leading the league in scoring and rebounding (20 points and 11 boards), he’s put up 18 double-doubles this season.

Some other long shots to consider: Marquette's Jae Crowder, Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley, Georgetown’s Jason Clark and Seton Hall’s Herb Pope. St. John’s freshmen D’Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless have been terrific but there’s another newcomer award for them.

It’s a tough pick between the two favorites and I waffle daily but I’d probably lean Johnson-Odom because he has not only been sensational, his team has been, too.

Coach of the year

Interesting test case here -- do you reward the guy who has steered the loaded roster to near perfection or do you celebrate coaches who have had surprising success?

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim
Mark Konezny/US PresswireJim Boeheim has coached Syracuse to near perfection. But does he deserve to be the Big East coach of the year?
Jim Boeheim is one trip to South Bend away from perfection, achieving such rarefied air despite dealing with the fallout from the Bernie Fine scandal in December. Outsiders might argue that a kindergartener could coach a team with so much depth and talent. What looks easy, though, isn’t always. Managing a team -- especially in this day and age, when premier players come in with premier egos -- is not easy.

And Boeheim hasn’t steered a team to near perfection in any old league. He’s done it in the Big East.

Mike Brey and John Thompson III, meantime, took the opposite run to success. Neither is supposed to be here.

The Irish were picked ninth in the league, and that was before Tim Abromaitis blew out his knee. After that? No one figured Brey’s team to be of any consequence.

But Brey, who memorably retooled his team two years ago after Luke Harangody’s injury, has done it again. Notre Dame is 12-5 in the league, vying for a top-four finish. Brey, who won coach of the year honors last year, has imbued his team with confidence, handing over the keys to the sophomore backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, and letting them run the show.

Thompson’s year at Georgetown has been equally impressive and equally surprising. The Hoyas were picked 10th in the preseason coaches’ poll after losing Chris Wright and Austin Freeman to graduation.

Instead, Georgetown is knotted with Notre Dame at 12-5. Henry Sims has been an eye-opener, the ideal point-center for the Hoyas’ Princeton style, and Otto Porter is arguably among the top freshmen in the conference.

Outsider choices: Mike Dunlap and Stan Heath. Dunlap is supposed to be an assistant, helping Steve Lavin. Instead, while Lavin recuperates from prostate cancer surgery, Dunlap has been running the show at St. John's, and running it with a roster stuffed to the gills with freshmen. Heath, meantime, has pulled himself off the hot seat and the Bulls into the conversation, taking South Florida to its best finish since joining the Big East.

This is another can’t-go-wrong choice. And hey, could you argue with Marquette's Buzz Williams winning it too? Not me.

My pick: Boeheim. The name of the game is winning, and no one in the league has done that better this year than the Syracuse coach.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

December, 9, 2011
Here's my attempt at ranking the Big East teams one month into the season:

1. Syracuse: Amid distractions and the dismissal of their associate head coach, the Orange have done nothing to undermine their top-five national ranking. Syracuse won its first seven games by an average of 26 points and then survived a slugfest against Florida. SU's defense has been particularly strong, while its offense is a little less reliable.

2. Marquette: Buzz Williams’ chronically underappreciated Golden Eagles ought to get their due soon. They’re undefeated, with notches against in-state rival Wisconsin and a good Washington team in New York. Darius Johnson-Odom is good enough to make the early short list for Big East Player of the Year.

3. Louisville: For those who thought Rick Pitino did a masterful job last season, we give you the first month of 2011-12. Pitino has had to hodgepodge together a team amid a myriad of injuries and has yet to lose a game. Louisville has quality wins against a good Long Beach State team and Vanderbilt, and, with everyone finally getting healthy, should only get better as the schedule gets tougher.

4. Connecticut: Rare is the season when beating Harvard signals that UConn is starting to find its way, but the Crimson is that good. Thursday night’s win doesn’t answer all the questions, but certainly for a Huskies team still trying to add new parts -- and satisfy old ones in the form of Alex Oriakhi -- it's a good step. Connecticut is good and will be better as the season progresses, but as the loss to UCF and the near-loss to Florida State prove, there will be growing pains.

5. Georgetown: The Hoyas count as a pleasant surprise in the Big East. After losing Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, no one knew quite what to expect. But Jason Clark has stepped into the leadership role in the backcourt, Hollis Thompson and the emerging Henry Sims have solidified the frontcourt, and Georgetown is 7-1 with quality wins against Memphis and Alabama and only a close loss to Kansas.

6. Pittsburgh: The Panthers will be tough to honestly judge for the next month as they play without Trevon Woodall. That sort of fits right in with Pitt anyway. This is a good team, but one that is a bit confounding. The loss to Long Beach State at the Pete ranks as the biggest head-scratcher, but there's also a sense that Pitt hasn’t quite found its groove just yet.

7. West Virginia: Bob Huggins’ work in progress is starting to progress. The Mountaineers took it on the chin against Mississippi State, but rebounded with a mighty impressive double-overtime win against a previously unbeaten Kansas State team in front of thousands of purple people in Wichita. Who this team is now and who it will be come March will likely be decidedly different.

8. Seton Hall: Herb Pope is playing out of his mind -- averaging an impressive double-double of 21.4 points and 11 boards -- and the Pirates are enjoying the benefits. Seton Hall has not played a murderers' row, for sure, but has won its winnable games with authority. Their lone loss, to Northwestern, isn’t diabolical.

9. Cincinnati: This perplexing Bearcats team could provide answers quickly. Cincinnati plays at Xavier on Saturday. In the meantime, we have only a confusing résumé to go by, which is why the Bearcats are in the middle of the pack. This is a talented and veteran team, so how to explain home losses to Presbyterian and Marshall? Yes, the Thundering Herd is a good team, but Cincy ought to be better.

10. Providence: No one will confuse the Friars’ 7-2 record for a sign of a Top 25 team in the making -- this team has feasted on winnable games early. But there’s no point in knocking that approach either. Ed Cooley is trying to change the culture at PC and in order to do that, he’s first got to change the confidence. Reality will come in the form of Georgetown and Syracuse in back-to-back games to end 2011 and start 2012.

11. Villanova: Jay Wright keeps tinkering and hasn’t found the right combination yet. There is talent on the Wildcats’ roster, but it’s not working together or working well. A team many thought would make the finals at the 76 Classic instead dropped games to Saint Louis and Santa Clara. The Wildcats are going to have to get smarter and better fast to be competitive in the conference.

12. Notre Dame: The Irish’s power rankings ought to come with an asterisk. Without Tim Abromaitis, this isn’t the same team. But as coaches like to say, you can only play the hand you’re dealt, and right now the Irish can’t even bluff well. Notre Dame has lost badly to the two ranked opponents it's faced (Missouri by 29 and Gonzaga by 20). In order to survive, Mike Brey may have to pull out the walk-the-ball-up-the-court method he used after Luke Harangody was injured.

13. DePaul: The Blue Demons’ struggles don’t appear to be easing anytime soon. DePaul played well in losses to its two toughest early opponents -- Minnesota and Ole Miss -- but almosts don’t count in basketball. There is still much work for Oliver Purnell to do and little time to do it in. DePaul kicks off the Big East season against Syracuse and Pitt.

14. St. John’s: Credit the Red Storm for playing a tough schedule. Unfortunately, right now the young team has nothing to show for it. St. John’s has lost to the three ranked teams it’s faced, but what is more damning is that it lost to Northeastern and Detroit as well. Steve Lavin is still recovering from cancer surgery, and Nurideen Lindsey just decided to transfer out. Not a fun season so far for the Johnnies.

15. South Florida: Times remain tough for Stan Heath in Tampa, where the promise of talent has never delivered victories. The Bulls this season are 5-4, but don’t let the record fool you. USF’s losses are either to bad teams (Penn State) or really bad losses to good teams -- a 23-point beating from VCU followed by a 28-point blowout to Kansas. The pressure is on Heath right now.

16. Rutgers: There are more questions than answers right now for the Scarlet Knights, who have lost four of their past five, including two in a row to LSU and Princeton. Most troubling, Rutgers hasn’t broken the 60-point mark in any of those games and is averaging just 66 points on the season.

South Florida faces a difficult schedule

July, 18, 2011
For a South Florida program looking to rise up in the Big East, the schedule-makers didn't exactly do the team any favors. Coming off a 10-23 season, the Bulls will have to play twice against Pittsburgh, Villanova and Providence.

Even heading into Big East play, South Florida has a tough road ahead of it, because aside from the list of quality opponents, the Bulls won't get to play in their on-campus arena while the Sun Dome undergoes a $35.6 million renovation.

They'll open the season at home for three games, but at three different locations -- the University of Tampa, the St. Pete Times Forum and the Lakeland Center. As notes, that means even a game against a lower-level opponent can get interesting.
USF's other home game will be at the Lakeland Center November 16 against Division II Florida Southern, who will likely have the home-court advantage as the road team since they will be just a few miles from campus.

And that's just the beginning. After that opening three-venue homestand, the Bulls will play at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame tournament against Old Dominion and then either Kentucky or Penn State. After coming back home to play Georgia Southern and Florida Atlantic at different home sites, then it's off to play at VCU and at Kansas. Later in December, there's a home game against Cleveland State and a road game in Hattiesburg against Southern Miss.

That's a lot of moving around for a team that continues to try cracking into the upper half of the Big East under coach Stan Heath. The Bulls nearly pulled it off in 2010 going 9-9 in conference play and making the NIT, but it's going to be difficult once again to gain traction.