When it comes to USF sports, most discussions focus on football: how we compare to the other Florida schools, how our relatively young program fights for big wins, how each year starts so promising then ends in heartbreak, etc. Now the conversations are shifting to that other sport, you know, the one to which we dedicate an entire month? The Bulls made it to March Madness this year—the third time in 41 years—and madness it has become.
Not only did the team make the competition, they won their first postseason game ever. And then another. And possibly another on Sunday, which would place them in the Sweet Sixteen. Calling that a huge accomplishment does not do our men justice.
To truly understand how important the wins our team has already accumulated, not to mention the possibilities ahead, one must consider these factors: our players, our conference and our support system.
Listen to any game recap on ESPN and the commentators will focus on the defense. Smothering, stifling, suffocating… the adjectives the experts use to describe the defense makes it sound like they are playing basketball with pillows. But all these words are used in admiration, because our defense rocks. It holds college basketball’s best players to mediocre numbers. Take Louisville’s Peyton Siva, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 Big East Championship, who only scored four points in their loss to USF.
Or how about the fact that in the first half of our tournament win over Temple, USF missed 22 shots in a row and went into halftime down by only four points. Don’t forget the team does not have one player who averages double-digit points. Compare that to the 2011 March Madness winner UConn’s best player Kemba Walker, who averaged 23.5 last season. Looking at our offensive stats would make many cringe. We ranked 320th in scoring offense. But that is the beauty of our players. They know the defense is the key to our wins and everyone is selfless enough to forfeit those big numbers and dominate as a team.
The Big East Conference is no joke. It has produced more NCAA Tourney champs than any other and boasted 11 teams in the competition this year (four more than the second most fruitful conference, Big Ten). USF went 12-6 in conference games this year. Our previous best was 9-9 last year and 4-14 before that. USF has never seemed relevant next to the Big East giants like UConn, Syracuse, Georgetown, etc. Compare our success this year to a scenario where the intern at Young Money Entertainment puts out a single that sells almost as many copies as Lil’ Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj’s albums combined. That’s how far off the March Madness radar we were.
The support for our team is the factor that baffles me the most. USF had the lowest average game attendance in the Big East last season—4,230. Syracuse had the highest—22,312. Side note: the Sun Dome seats 21,750. There are over 40,000 students at USF Tampa alone, and all we can average is 4,230? I’m as guilty as anyone, having never been to a USF basketball game, which is why I am so impressed that our men can give 100 percent when they are backed by less than 1 percent of the students.
These reasons are why this tournament is so important. The exposure will affect all three. Maybe we can recruit some big scorers who will aid our overwhelming defense. Maybe our name will be printed in articles next to UConn and Syracuse. Maybe the Sun Dome will become the place to be and basketball season will be just as much fun as football season. Maybe those conversations about football will drift into discussions about basketball, about how USF is gaining momentum in both, how we will keep competing for titles, how we remember that heartbreak that turned into pride.