I'm having so many conflicting emotions right now, it's hard to keep track of them all. But if I could put it into one sentence, it would be:
The NCAA Tournament is such a tease.
You did so much just to get here, but there was so much more that was five minutes away. And once you lose it, you've got to start all over again just to get back where you were. Oh, and you have to replace all your seniors.
I'm guessing this is what bona fide basketball schools feel like when they've lost in an NCAA Tournament. We got here. And we got pretty far. But we let it get away.
Which is not to take anything away from Ohio. In the crucial stretch of the game, they made shots and we didn't. They played a great game, they deserved to win today, and I congratulate them.
But, damn. We were there. We were right there. A Sweet 16 and a date with North Carolina was within USF's grasp. And in St. Louis, of all places, in a sharp departure from the Greensboro-Raleigh-Winston Salem-Charlotte path UNC usually gets.
Yeah, they probably would have killed us.
But maybe they wouldn't have. Maybe this team could have won an even greater victory.
We'll never know now.
I bet every team that lost in the NCAA Tournament felt exactly the same way we do right now. I bet Missouri felt it, I bet Long Island felt it, I bet Purdue and Lehigh feel it right now: that jarring juxtaposition of what a great season you had, and what a greater season you're not going to have. Or could have had if you'd done this or that a tiny bit differently.
As I think back over the season, I think of all the little points where things could have gone wrong for USF -- or could have gone even more incredibly right. What if there is replay review in the Vermont game and we end up losing in overtime? What if the Old Dominion game goes our way and we get a shot at Kentucky? What if we pull out Southern Miss or UConn? What if we don't pull out Rutgers or Seton Hall? What if we don't get the shooter's roll, twice, against Cincinnati? What if that layup against Notre Dame goes down? What if Jawanza Poland wasn't hurt and then suspended early on? What if someone else was? What if Andre Jackson had gotten into USF? What if Anthony Crater never left the program? What if Anthony Collins decided Baylor was more to his liking? What if? What if? What if?
It amazes me how random it all is. In college basketball, the perception of your entire season is based largely on how you do in the NCAA Tournament. And there are so many tiny things that can completely change the trajectory of your season. Not the least of which is the NCAA Selection Committee. USF was very much a bubble team, but got an opportunity to go to Dayton, which they made the most of. But in some universe that's identical to ours except the NCAA Selection Committee has slightly different criteria, our parallel souls are cursing the most USF season ever.
But I think the legacy of this season will be less what round we lost in, and more how it positively impacted the future of the program. That legacy can be summed up in this sentence:
USF can actually get to the NCAA Tournament, and win games. A week ago we didn't know that. The toughest job in America is not so tough anymore. Twitter is abuzz with promises to buy tickets for next season. Returning will be late-season stars Anthony Collins, Victor Rudd, Jawanza Poland, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, and Shaun Noriega. The team got a personality, something it hasn't had in a decade. And we've talked before about how the Muma Basketball Center and the renovated Sun Dome will help.
I know we hate the "we did great just to get here!" attitude after football grew so quickly and then plateaued. But I think you have to accept it in this case. So let's not get hung up on what could have gone differently, and celebrate a season that injected some desperately needed life back into USF basketball -- wherever it ended.