The USF men’s basketball team hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 1992, but this year the Bulls ended their lengthy drought.
The Bulls head into the Big East Tournament Wednesday, Mar. 9, at 9 p.m. They’ll face the winner of the Rutgers vs. Villanova Monday night game.
Carson Ingle, who covers NCAA sports for ICPlaces.com, commented on the Bulls’ record.
“This is their first winning season in Big East play and they have been extremely impressive,” Ingle said. “They got off to a good start against some of the lesser teams in the conference, but picked up a few marquee wins as well. … Also, they’ll probably need to win a game or two in the Big East Tournament to gain really strong NCAA consideration.”
The players understand what’s at stake. Last week, Jawanza Poland told the Digital Bullpen that the team is focused on joining the 68-team field.
“We all have the same goal and that’s to make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Poland said. “That’s the goal for this team. We want to finish top three in the conference and then get to the tournament.”
Entering the season, there weren’t high expectations for this team. After losing 23 games last year, USF was again expected to be one of the bottom feeders in the Big East. However, head coach Stan Heath recruited a number of new players, such as Victor Rudd Jr. and Anthony Collins, and altered his coaching so that the team would play a more physical style. Also, this is the final opportunity for players like Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson to prove themselves and show that they’re good enough to play professional basketball.
Dan Barto, the head trainer at the famed IMG Basketball Academy, was very surprised by USF’s success.
“I think the biggest reason for USF’s improvement is individual motivation,” Barto said. “The changes to the staff have been very helpful to Stan Heath’s game management, but for guys like Augustus Gilchrist, Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson, this is their last opportunity [to] prove their doubters wrong and they’re greatly motivated. They are also one of the longest and biggest teams in the country, which allows them to own the paint. They play a very physical style of basketball and they wear teams down.”
While receiving an invite to the NCAA Tournament would be excellent for the program, USF’s season will still be considered a success if they don’t receive an invite. In fact, missing out on March Madness and playing in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) may be better for USF in the long room, according to Josh Dentel of ESPNFlorida.com.
“Even if the Bulls don’t make the NCAA Tournament, they’re still a lock for the NIT,” Dentel said. “It may actually be better for them to play in the NIT. They could make a deep run in that tournament, rather than losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.”
USF’s play over the next week will determine their fate. Even if they don’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the team is heading in the right direction, which is more than we could say last season.