If you're a part of the college sports world, you no doubt are aware that the USF Bulls will be competing in the 2012 NCAA Championship Tournament for the first time in 20 years. The Bulls built a national reputation for themselves with their painfully low-scoring contests and a habit of frustrating opponents who are seemingly far superior. Now it's time for USF to take the progress they've made throughout this season and turn it into a Cinderella run in the tournament. And I'm about to tell you exactly how USF can succeed in its quest for glory.
1. Keep playing your game - USF's style of offense is built for this time of year. Their low-scoring, high-defense play does two things: It allows USF to build rhythm and momentum on its own time, and it prevents players from getting exhausted or injured. Both of these things are integral to a team who needs to win a bunch of games in a row. The other teams with more high-scoring offenses are going to look nicer in the seeding, but they are more susceptible to losing a player or two down the road.
2. Drive to the basket - The only thing lower than USF's opponents' field goal percentages is USF's own field goal percentage. A large part of that is the fact that the Bulls don't have a guy who can drive through the defense for a layup. Last year, we trusted Anthony Crater to make the moves and put it up. We don't expect the same from Anthony Collins, but we need someone to step up for that. Our lack of ability to drive results in a lot of outside shots as the clock is running down, which results in low FG%.
3. Guard the three - In both games of the Big East tournament, USF saw a lot of three-point shots taken against them. Luckily, not many of them went down. But these teams in the NCAA tournament didn't make it on just two-pointers alone. USF's defense in the paint is solid, which results in the opposing team passing the ball around the outside. If USF can get a guy on the arc just to put a hand in the faces of the shooters, they can only add to the success of the defense.
4. Be more conservative with the ball - We saw it against Villanova last week. They sort of got sloppy with the ball. Much of that may be credited to the fact that the Bulls were leading and decided to try and get fancy with the ball. But that isn't going to work here. No alley-oops. No full-court heaves. No fake-layup-no-look-passes. A large part in succeeding against the top teams in the nation is limiting turnovers. If we hold onto the ball better in these games, it could translate to more points for an offense that is going to rely on close victories.
5. Leave the tough teams to everyone else - Just like I said in the Big East tournament, I'd be willing to bet that USF will not meet a top-three seed in this tournament. They don't call it "Madness" for nothing. In my experience, #1 seeds never make it very far. North Carolina may not even get past the round of 32. And there's no guarantee that Michigan will even get past Ohio (Who beat #2 seed Georgetown last year in round 1) in the first round. In an ideal bracket, USF could be a #12 seed and make it to the Elite Eight without encountering a top-five seed.
Everyone who has filled out a bracket knows that there's always that one team that's still hanging around even though no one knows how. Why not USF? I think Stan Heath understands how his team's style of play can succeed in a tournament setting. But before we start putting USF in our Final Four, let's beat Cal first.