NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08: Jerian Grant #22 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks to pass while Hugh Robertson #34 and Anthony Collins #11 of the South Florida Bulls go for the ball during the quarterfinals of the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
It's been tiring to read snarky tweets from "national" writers who have barely paid attention to USF basketball all season when they've been "forced" to watch the Bulls play during the last two weeks. Oh, is this overtime sudden death? This game is killing basketball. Where's my eye bleach? I should have saved some of these at the time, but now they're too far gone for me to show you some real-life examples. But they were all over the place on Thursday night. Then some of them went into Stan Heath's press conference after the game and made him defend his team's style of play.
Why does USF get knocked for playing slow and winning ugly? Their tempo is 342nd out of 345 Division I teams, according to KenPom. Look who else is down there with them, though:
- Notre Dame - 326th
- Harvard - 328th
- Michigan - 329th
- Virginia - 339th
- Wisconsin - 344th (next to last)
None of them get killed for playing so slowly. If anything, Mike Brey is getting credit for it. But there is one difference between those five teams and the Bulls. It's the reason all five of them have airtight NCAA Tournament resumes (even without automatic bids), while USF's case is less certain. (And no, it's not name recognition, although that doesn't help.)
Let's look at those KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency numbers for the same six teams.
- Notre Dame - 51st
- Harvard - 68th
- Michigan - 19th
- Virginia - 107th
- Wisconsin - 23rd
- USF - 179th
There's your difference. While those other teams play slowly, they can still get points when they need them. The Bulls have to work a lot harder to score, and that would probably hold true even if they cranked up the tempo. Now look at all the teams ranked below USF. Not one of them has a chance of making the NCAA Tournament field unless they get an automatic bid. Most of them have losing records. And a lot of them are just plain awful teams.
Slowing it down saves them to play their usual monster defense (they're rated 16th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency, one spot behind Syracuse) and keeps them in games. It's ugly, it's not aesthetically pleasing, and it repulses casual viewers -- even viewers who are supposed to be experts. But playing defense is the only reason USF has a chance to dance.