South Florida has a basketball team?
The Tampa community has never given a rats' buttocks about the South Florida basketball program. In fact, I would venture to guess that 50 percent of its residents probably don’t even know that USF has one.
That’s because the Bulls have been wretched for years. Oh, sure, in recent years they have started out fairly well by beating awful non-conference competition but then would get trounced nightly in the powerful Big East.
Well, it’s time for those in Tampa and even around the nation – that means you, sports traders – to pay some attention to USF. Last night the Bulls went to Georgetown and upset the No. 7 Hoyas 72-64 marking the highest-ranked team USF has ever beaten. It also was the Bulls’ first road win over a ranked team since 1992. Now, Wednesday’s outcome could be considered a one-game fluke (USF took over down the stretch when Hoyas star center Greg Monroe fouled out), but it follows a 71-60 home win over ranked Pittsburgh on Saturday for South Florida; the first time in program history that USF has won back-to-back games against ranked teams.
The Bulls, who had a total of 11 Big East wins the previous four seasons, now have won four conference games in a row (and covered the spread in six straight) after never having won back-to-back Big East games. USF is 15-7 overall and 5-5 in what's arguably the nation’s best conference – can you say possible NCAA Tournament team? The Bulls haven’t gone dancing since 1992.
Coach Stan Heath has basically given the keys of this team over to standout junior guard Dominique Jones, the leading scorer in Big East play. He had 29 against the Hoyas and is averaging 35 points per game in the winning streak, and that includes a 46-point game Jan. 23 against Providence – the second most points ever for a player in a Big East regular-season game and the most for a USF player in 28 years. In the past four games, Jones has played 168 of a possible 170 minutes (two games went to overtime). He led the nation in scoring in January at 29.5 points per game, so he’s right on track so far in February.
This team is certainly far from perfect, as it has little depth. Yes, it outscored Georgetown’s bench on Wednesday, but that was 10-2. It was the first time since Nov. 27 that USF’s bench outscored the opposition. And teams might start resorting to gimmick defenses just to stop Jones – can you say box-and-one?
USF has eight conference games left, and no team that finishes above .500 in Big East regular-season play will be left out of the Big Dance. So if the Bulls can run the table at home (they are 8-3 there, 6-3-1 ATS) against Cincinnati, St. John’s, Providence and UConn (all very winnable games) and then win one road game among Notre Dame, Marquette, Villanova and DePaul (the Bulls should beat the Blue Demons at a minimum), then you can pencil this team into the March Madness bracket
USF is 14-6-1 ATS, so pay attention to this team before the oddsmakers make overwhelming adjustments.