(NOTE: I was going to write this even before last night's game. That was just a bonus.)
USF basketball is almost certainly going to hit the 20-year mark since their last NCAA Tournament bid this March. The Bulls haven't put on their dancing shoes since Ken was in the first grade. In the process, we've had to learn incredible patience... savoring the small victories... looking for any hint of a brighter future, anything that would tell us that finally, there's a program being built.
Take a look at Stan Heath's recruiting. For once, he's not scrambling during April or during the late signing periods to find enough kids to fill his roster. The 2012 recruiting class is put to bed, and he has time now to move ahead to 2013 and start laying the groundwork for the players he wants to get next fall and winter. It's also one of the best recruiting classes USF has seen in a long time, with players who will come in ready to contribute and make an impact.
Take a look at Anthony Collins. If we're putting him on the Chuckycrater right now, as a true freshman, he's probably a B-, which would rate him higher than any point guard who's worn the green and gold since Reggie Kohn. How good is he going to be in a couple of years? How good is he making the current players? How good is he going to make the next wave of players as he improves along with them?
Take a look at the game from Tuesday night. Who was the more athletic team, USF or Notre Dame? It was USF, and it was noticeable. Athleticism and talent does not necessarily make a good team, and as you saw, the Irish executed a lot better than the Bulls did. But instead of one or two guys who are true Big East-caliber players, now there are four or five. Even though that won't help them against teams like Syracuse, who run ten or eleven deep with quality players. they're going to be much more competitive throughout the conference schedule.
Take a look at all the bulldozers and cranes that have been in Lot 22 for the last year or so. It's one thing to be able to show people a blueprint (or in the case of the Sun Dome, not show us a blueprint). It's another to give someone a hard hat and show them, this is where you're going to play next year. Now come see where you'll practice, where you'll learn, where you'll hang out. I saw some of the "facilities" the basketball team used inside the Sun Dome when I was a student, like the weight room. There's no comparison to be made to what they have now.
Take a look at how the team is starting to be built. Fewer transfers. Probably fewer guys shuttling in and out of the program this summer. More recruits signing out of high school or prep school. The continuity and stability of the 2012-13 team should be a lot higher than this year's team. Stan isn't going to have to play catch as catch can anymore, or depend heavily on transfers who didn't get much playing time in their last stop and may not be ready for the responsibility. (Although Ron Anderson Jr. is going to end up being one of my favorite random USF basketball players ever.)
Take a look at what's happening in the Big East. The conference's bell cow is leaving. Louisville is down. Villanova is way down. The teams replacing Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia aren't even close to what those three are on the court, even with Pittsburgh struggling mightily. The conference is going to get a little bit easier, all while the Bulls are getting stronger. You're already seeing some turnover in the top half of the standings and longtime doormats rising up, like Rutgers beating UConn, or Seton Hall beating pretty much everyone.
None of this is a guarantee that the Bulls are going to break their generation-long NCAA Tournament drought soon. But take a look at the long view for USF basketball. You should like what you see.