USF basketball has potential.
Wait, let me read that again and make sure that I truly believe it.
Yes, USF basketball has potential.
On Wednesday night, the Bulls defeated No. 8 Georgetown for their fourth consecutive win in the Big East. It is an achievement that most teams would mark off as moderately exciting, but for the Bulls it is fascinating and slightly unbelievable. On Saturday, the Bulls won just their third ever Big East road game. Until last Thursday, the Bulls had never won consecutive Big East Games. In program history, the Bulls have defeated 11 teams ranked in the AP top 25. Two of those victories have come since Sunday.
To say that the history of USF basketball is rather irrelevant is to say that Duke has kind of a storied program.
As a Tampa native, I thoroughly understand what it is like to attend a USF basketball game at the Sun Dome. USF games are characterized by green and yellow chairs, slightly faded and empty. They feature a group of 20-30 students that decided, “Enough studying for the night. Let’s get drunk and see what’s going on at the Sun Dome.” They are highlighted by stubborn ushers who, although no one ever sits in the high dollar booster seats down low, will under no circumstances let you slip down into the sea of vacant opportunity. Maybe the most packed I’ve ever seen the humble abode was the day that I walked across its floor for my high school graduation.
USF games are sterile, intimate and occasionally filled with opposing team fans when the northern transplant schools come into town. Head coach Stan Heath and star PG Dominique Jones might be changing that. They are trying to take a team that is relegated on Tampa television to the local “Catch 47” high school sports network to the grandest national stage in college basketball, March Madness.
USF teams tend to play with a built-in frustration that is the result of being a reject of the more major schools. The football team is almost completely comprised of in-state guys that were told that they were not good enough to play at any of Florida’s established “big three” football programs. That is why they celebrated so vigorously after defeating FSU this past season, and why while they likely won’t be victorious, they will probably destroy their bodies trying to be when they make the trip to Gainesville in 2010.
The basketball team has a different kind of frustrating battle to fight. In 2005, USF sports teams left Conference USA to join the Big East conference. While this move was primarily made to elevate the meteoric football team, that had garnered more recognition in its eight years of existence than the basketball team had in its 34-year-lifespan, basketball was somewhat lost in the shuffle. USF basketball already struggled in Conference USA, and a move to the new powerhouse version of the Big East was a death wish. For five years, they have been stomped all over by the national elite of college basketball.
So it was hard to blame the Bulls for the antics that they showed in the final moments of their win over Georgetown.
With one minute remaining and the Bulls up by eight, Jones turned to the 12,207 in attendance at Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center and yelled “Y’all come watch Dominique Jones play!” Jones had just finished another excellent performance with 29 points, and to the crowd’s dismay, they already had. They responded with boos. Jones would continue yelling his rambling thoughts to the crowd during the final minute, Heath remaining unaware and unconcerned if he was really paying attention to the game at all.
The boos would return in the closing seconds when instead of simply running out the clock, senior Mike Mercer put his finishing touches on the game with a “look-at-me” reverse jackhammer dunk. Jones yelled at the crowd some more. The Bulls had plenty of humiliation to make up for.
It is still early, but for a team that plays beneath banners of NIT APPEARANCES, that is a difficult point to get across. The Bulls are 15-7 (5-5 Big East), and they just might be March bound. The Big East has one less doormat in its arsenal.