Last season, the USF men’s basketball team surprised fans, coaches and media alike by winning 22 games overall, finishing 12-6 in the Big East Conference, and making a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years.
Nobody said it would be easy repeating last year’s success, or even coming close to it.
Losing three battle-tested seniors who understood the competitive nature of the Big East Conference and what it takes to win certainly doesn’t help matters for USF head coach Stan Heath and the Bulls going forward.
But that is still no excuse for the performance, or lack thereof that USF (9-4, 0-2 Big East) gave in its 61-53 loss to the Villanova Wildcats (11-4, 1-1 Big East) on Wednesday night at the Sun Dome.
“The game was really decided when they (Villanova) first set the tone early with the inside game, the rebounding, their scoring inside…and we never really recovered,” Heath said.
Beautiful arena, ugly game for the Bulls.
“The energy of the team for 40 minutes was not there tonight, and it hasn’t been that way for a long time,” Heath proclaimed.
To be fair, USF is coming off a 55-44 loss to No.7 Syracuse that few, if any, expected them to win, considering USF’s well-documented struggles against the Orange’s patented 2-3-zone defense.
However, Villanova was certainly a beatable team. The Wildcats are a young group that struggles on defense and fails to take of the basketball.
To be honest, the matchup against Villanova is arguably one of the easiest tests that the Bulls will face in conference play outside of the Providence Friars and St. John’s Red Storm.
The grind gets much tougher for the Bulls as they next have to travel to Louisville, Ky. to face the No. 3 Cardinals, a team that is being penciled in to make it to the Final Four and possibly add a national championship to coach Rick Pitino’s resume.
From the play so far, it appears USF is good enough to collect maybe five or six victories in the Big East.
USF may have one of the best man-to-man defenses in all of the NCAA, but it is not enough to outweigh the team’s massive flaws.
Let’s face it: the team can’t rebound and it struggles mightily to score. That makes for some boring basketball that is tough to watch for all parties involved.
USF was again outrebounded 42-22, while allowing the Wildcats to collect 15 offensive boards.
“Give their ‘bigs’ credit,” Heath said. “Villanova’s ‘bigs’ were the ones who really dominated the game tonight.”
It is now almost a given that when USF is outrebounded, the Bulls are going to lose. In all five of their defeats, they have been outrebounded by double-digits.
Unfortunately, the Bulls do not have the luxury of a strong frontcourt, an elite scorer, or even decent depth to limit their struggles. They cannot just rely on point guard Anthony Collins, who finished with 11 points and four assists, to rally them to victories.
Heath added, “We have to improve our shooting, our scoring and finishing our baskets in close.”
This is a team that has always had to overcome their talent deficiencies to scrape for wins.
Unless the Bulls want to watch the NCAA Tournament from their couches come mid-March, now would be a good time to start scraping.