Today is the magical holiday of Festivus, so in keeping with the theme of the day, I'd like to hold an airing of grievances towards USF basketball, starting with last night's game.
Do you know what a Red Line Upset is? It's a term that the wonderful The Mid-Majority blog came up with to describe when a "mid-major" basketball team beats a major conference team. (Using The Mid-Majority's criteria, there are seven major leagues - the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, Mountain West, PAC-10, and the SEC. Losses by any of those teams against teams from any other league, who fall below "The Red Line" of athletics/program funding, are Red Line Upsets, or RLUs. Losses against Memphis, Xavier, and Gonzaga don't count as RLUs.)
An average major-conference team will usually suffer a Red Line Upset or two each season, and that's fine. Sometimes you don't have it, the other team is hungrier, you're in a hostile environment, they match up well with you, whatever. It happens. The elite teams will rarely have any. The bad teams will, of course, have the most.
I guess that means USF is really bad, because the Bulls have been on the wrong end of SIX Red Line Upsets this year. That's tied with Oregon State for the most RLU losses in the country. (And they could have had as many as eight -- remember they damn near lost to VCU, and they only beat St. Francis by 3.) Sure, some of the teams the Bulls have lost to may actually be good, like UCF and Southern Miss and Cleveland State. But they've also lost to James Madison and FAU and Kent State, who are probably not. These are teams that even a struggling program like USF should not lose to.
Tonight's game laid bare exactly what's wrong with the team. They played adequate defense. They didn't take themselves out of the game with foul trouble. They annihilated Cleveland State on the boards, 49-26. They shot 48%. They made five more free throws than the Vikings. They blocked 10 shots. Jarrid Famous had by far his best game as a Bull, slapping together a 22 and 10. So how did they lose?
Because they were an outrageous -20 in turnovers. The Bulls had 24, the Vikings just four.
They found every way you can find to turn the ball over. They threw bad passes (and there were plenty more bad passes that didn't result in turnovers). They fumbled the ball out of bounds. They committed offensive fouls. They dropped good passes. They had the ball stolen. They had a backcourt violation. They even had a turnover because they couldn't get the ball inbounds after the Vikings made a basket. No one on the team looks comfortable handling the ball unless they're running up the court at full speed, and even then there are hiccups. When no one can keep the offense running, then you get stagnant, you take bad shots with the shot clock running down, and you commit turnovers.
It was disgusting to watch, and to make things even worse, this was the last non-conference game of the year. The competition only gets harder from here. Remember how Ken said stopping Norris Cole was the key to the game? Well, they held him to 27 points, and only 25 in the second half. Jeremy Montgomery added 21 in the backcourt. If these guys are lighting the Bulls up, what's going to happen against Kemba Walker or Austin Freeman or even Marshon Brooks? It's going to be a brutal couple of months in conference play.
I want to complain about the big picture, too. I really do. It's so tempting to do it when you see that playing basketball in Florida is clearly not the issue. We know what Florida has accomplished. FSU and Miami are at least competitive every year. But they all have a lot more money to work with than USF does. (According to the latest OPE Equity in Athletics report, USF only spent about $3.2 million on men's basketball in 2009-10, far less than either FSU or Miami and again one of the lowest figures for programs above "The Red Line." I also wouldn't count on that number going up very much in the future if the tiny crowds that are showing up to games this season are any indication.)
Then there's that team in Orlando, which I'm going to break our blog policy of radio silence to talk about for a minute. Their league is below "The Red Line", and they fired their longtime coach at the end of last season. They're 11-0 right now, and odds are they're going to run up some kind of baroque fucking record by the end of the year. They might win 25+ games, and they should end up in the NCAA Tournament on their own merit, instead of going in as cannon fodder like they did back in the Atlantic Sun or the TAAC. This week they earned their first-ever national ranking, which I believe USF is still waiting for in its 40th season of playing basketball. Oh by the way, they're spending about a million dollars less per year on their program.
Sure, more money would probably help, but winning and money aren't mutually exclusive things. (If there's one nice thing you can say about our situation, it's that at least we're not spending as much money as some of these other major-conference teams are to suck like this.) What's not happening here that happens in these other places? I don't know the answer, or if there even is an answer. That's why complaining about the big picture is ultimately a waste of time. Pointing fingers at students or whoever is unseemly and it always backfires. Writing a FIRE EVERYONE DAMMIT post is message board-y and very shortsighted for reasons Toro got into last week. Besides, I still have patience with our coaches. Maybe less patience than others, because these are all Stan Heath's recruits at this point and this is going to be another 10-win team, but I'm not willing to hit the reset button. There isn't a better option.
My only thought right now is to wonder if there's a way to Moneyball this thing. Are there recruiting inefficiencies out there to be exploited? Is it even possible to figure out a way to get an edge with numbers? (I doubt there are many high schools or academies out there pumping out Daryl Morey-like stats for their kids.) Should we double down on recruiting the state to try and save money? (This could be an option. FSU has 7 Florida players on the roster, UF has 6, UCF has 4, and Miami has 2. The Bulls have 4, but that includes walk-on senior Alberto Damour, and of course Lil' Heath.) Do we need a Carl Franks type in the basketball office who focuses only on recruiting? (We may already have someone like this - I honestly don't know.) Should we have a powwow with the Rays management on how to compete with teams who have far more resources? (USF's basketball situation is a lot like theirs, being asked to compete in a league filled with free spenders like Marquette, Syracuse, Georgetown, and Louisville.)
Who knows. I wish I had more answers. Or any answers. Instead I just have grievances. It's going to be another long season.
(NOTE: The Feats of Strength have been cancelled.)