Feb 26, 2012; Tallahassee, FL, USA; A South Florida Bulls cheerleader performs in the first half of their game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Bulls won 46-45. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE
The first round of the NCAA Tournament is always full of interesting little side stories. And I think USF is one of the most interesting ones, but the team has gotten almost no mention in the pre-tournament media coverage. For any national media that might be reading, allow me to suggest some possible story angles:
Teams with unusual styles of play attract attention when they succeed in the NCAA Tournament. Remember Loyola Marymount? Princeton? North Carolina's Four Corners? Providence's use of the new-fangled three-point shot in 1986? If USF can win a game or two with their Root Canal style, they're going to be the big talk. Do your research now, and be ahead of the pack.
- Making the NCAA tournament after being picked to finish 14th in the Big East, and having an all-time conference record of 23-79 (.225 winning percentage) going into the season. If any team made the NCAA Tournament from a worse recent history and pre-season starting position than that, I'd love to see it. Calm down, Northwestern, I said "made the NCAA Tournament."
- Having to play the entire season on the road, including two Division II teams in their own gyms (Tampa in the exhibition and Florida Southern in the regular season). How many power conference schools have to do that? As much as football analysts love to bring up the "started in trailers" bit, you'd think this little piece of adversity would at least rate a mention.
- The first NCAA trip in 20 years. Harvard has rightly gotten that storyline this season (first trip since 1946, after an excruciating near-miss last season). And two other teams had similar streaks end (Southern Miss, 1991; Loyola-Maryland, 1994). But it's still been a long, strange trip since Boise in 1992.
- Also, that USF has never won an NCAA Tournament game. They could end that streak, leaving only Nebraska and Northwestern as major conference schools to have never done it. (We'll debate "does the play-in round count?" later, if it turns out to be relevant.)
- In this age of advanced sports statistics, analysts look for the types of teams that go on to win championships. A common question about college basketball is whether it is possible to win a championship with a great offense and a questionable defense. USF makes an interesting outlier in this regard: they've got a terrific defense (16th in Ken Pomeroy's defensive ratings), but a very weak offense (177th). The reverse question is rarely asked, probably because such teams tend not to make the NCAA Tournament. Well, this one has. Get your calculators ready.
- For all the complaints about our dull style of play, we've got some great dunkers in this team. Jawanza Poland has a few YouTube-worthy throwdowns. And Victor Rudd's posterization of God'sgift Achiuwa is one for the ages. And he seems pretty humble about it. If I humiliated a guy named God's Gift like that, I'd start my own religion.
- And speaking of our style of play, ESPN's "college basketball experts" should spend less time whining about having to watch it and more time discussing how it got a team with all our disadvantages into the NCAA Tournament.
- The recruiting angle. USF's players were almost all three-star recruits, in a league where most schools use three-star recruits to wipe off the floor during game breaks. Even Providence and Rutgers and DePaul bring in the occasional Top 100 guy. Yet, here we are and here they aren't. You'd think there would be more curiosity about how Stan Heath pulled this off.
Maybe a marketable nickname, like "40 minutes of hell" would help? Personally, I think the team ought to embrace Rick Pitino's "like a root canal" comment. We are Team Root Canal. We don't always win, but we do always make you suffer long, slow, tedious pain. (At least since after the Georgetown game.)
Lots more after the jump.
Point guard Anthony Collins, one of the aforementioned 3-star recruits, leading the team into the Big East as a true freshman in a league that eats freshmen for breakfast. He should be much more of a national story.
The what-a-difference-a-point-guard-can-make story, comparing the team under Collins to last year's team with Anthony Crater at the point.
The potential redemption story of Poland's unfortunate missed layup against Notre Dame. Now that the Bulls have made the NCAA Tournament, don't you get the feeling he's going to get another opportunity to play a big part in a close game?
Augustus Gilchrist leaving the team and then returning. In fact, his whole star-crossed career, with a happy ending in the NCAA Tournament, would make a good story.
For that matter, Heath himself is a redemption story. He was fired from Arkansas despite having a pretty good record, with his last Razorbacks team barely squeaking into the NCAA Tournament in 2007. He then takes the oft-proclaimed "toughest job in America" and gets them to the big dance, plus a 20-win season two years ago. And when was the last time you heard anything about Arkansas basketball?
Being mistaken for the University of San Francisco in the White House online bracket app. Come on, Obama camp, Florida's a swing state.
Our little Twitter slap fight with Doug Gottlieb. We'll be getting out of our cars tonight in Dayton, Ohio, thanks.
Remember the opening win over Vermont? In the University of Tampa's gym? Where the Catamounts' game-tying shot was after the buzzer and maybe it wasn't? A loss in that game could have changed the whole season. It certainly would have given us four bad losses instead of three, and maybe kept us out of the NCAA's. It's also one of USF's mere three wins against teams in the NCAA Tournament field.
This one probably shouldn't be a story, because I'm sure we're all glad not to have to see his face this year, but: after several years of Seth Greenberg nearly missing the NCAA Tournament and whining about it, his former school gets in on its first try in 20 years. I wonder if he's pissed about that.
For expansion/realignment buffs, how a football-driven expansion can pay dividends in other sports. USF has no business being in this conference for anything than football, and yet they've used the opportunity to improve their basketball program.
The Muma Basketball Facility and Sun Dome renovation. Granted, lots of schools upgrade facilities, but this one may not have been possible without the football-driven Big East tie-in.
How big a role the late Lee Roy Selmon played in all this. The "LRS" patches on the players' jerseys would be an opportune time to bring this up.
Also realignment-related: a Temple-USF game in the first round would be Temple's first against a Big East team since joining the league.
How it all started with a surprise win over Villanova in last season's Big East Tournament.
The round of 64 sees a 12-5 upset almost every year. I know the bottom half of this year's tournament is weaker than usual, but the talk so far has been all about the favorites. Even after VCU's run last season, there's been very little "which team can make a run" talk. Because somebody is going to make a run. And USF could be that team, if they can get enough on the offensive end.
There are probably even more, but that should be enough to get the national media's pens moving, word processors processing, and blogs blogging about USF basketball. I'd appreciate a hat tip. Thanks.