Now I know how SEC football fans feel. We all get tired of them thumping their chests and reveling in each other's victories and talking about how they don't have to play anyone out of conference because they play in the SEC. How they can beat anyone from any other league because they play in the SEC. How they're stronger and deeper and better than everyone else. These other leagues, Pawwl, they just ain't that good. They don't play defense, Pawwl. We got all the best kids. SEC, Pawwl.
Last night was more proof that if we're talking about overall depth, the Big East is to basketball what the SEC is to football. (Yes, I know Kentucky is better than everyone else. They're going to win. Don't even bother commenting.) The conference's ninth and lowest-seeded entrant in the NCAA Tournament put a full-fledged #BEATEMDOWN on the Pac-12's second-best team, regardless of what the scoreboard said. USF gave up 13 points in the first half. They were ahead by 32 with nine minutes to go. The Bulls had at least a 20-point lead for over half the game. It was a bloodletting.
California played hesitant, as if they hadn't seen anything like the USF defense all season. They had a hard time getting open anywhere on the court. The guards didn't even really try to get to the rim. Harper Kamp had some good looks down low early on, but then he started getting pushed further and further away from the rim when he tried to post up. Open shots didn't go in. Contested shots didn't go in. The Bears looked spooked. They went the last 8:55 of the first half without scoring a point. When USF's 23-point halftime lead bumped up to 25 at the first media timeout of the second half, the game was over.
Meanwhile, it seemed like the Bulls had more space to work with offensively than they had had in at least a month. Anthony Collins got into the paint fairly easily. The shooters had room to get off open shots. Augustus Gilchrist was effective down low for the first time in awhile. Stan Heath even got Shaun Noriega out of mothballs to play some early minutes, and he hit a "everything has gone right for us" three to finish the half.
I texted Collin (who was having a fantastic time in the arena) at the under-8 timeout of the first half. I rarely go out on a limb and say things like this, but I told him flat out that USF was going to win. Very early on, I got the feeling like the Bulls were playing Villanova or St. John's, like it was a game they should win without too much trouble. Once you got Cal off the stat sheet and out on the court, they just weren't that intimidating. Well, until they were down 25 with four minutes left and THEN they decided to trap and start playing faster on offense while USF stood around making dismissive wanking motions.
So USF advances (yes, I said USF advances!) to the full bracket to play Temple in Nashville on Friday night. And if that first-half team shows up again, they could stick around this tournament for another round or two.