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Monday, March 19, 2012

March Victorious

USF's season just ended with a loss to the Ohio Bobcats in the NCAA Tournament's round of 32. While I won't claim a moral victory by insisting the Bulls were victorious in defeat, the trek here was indeed an accomplishment on the part of USF.

For reference: USF had a lot of history behind it, and little was good. Before this year, USF was nursing a two decade drought from NCAA tournament participation, at the time the 4th longest. The Bulls were one of three teams from a Big Six (read: BCS) conference never to have notched a victory in the tournament, its only company being Northwestern, which has never made the tourney, and Nebraska. And seven years ago, when a far-from-powerhouse basketball team was thrust into the mighty Big East conference, it seemed we had little hope of even finishing out of the bottom half of the league's teams.

Wins, particularly those in conference, were hard to come by under former head coach Robert McCullum, and didn't seem to show immense improvement under Stan Heath, with two notable exceptions. The Bulls found themselves in the league's bottom three with the exception of 2009-2010, when USF was an NIT first round knockout, and this year, where, tied for 4th in the conference, USF was invited to the Big Dance as a "First Four" participant.

I'll be honest. First Four still sounds a whole lot like play-in to me. After all, if you don't even get your own line on a bracket, face it, it's a play in. Still, I was impressed to see USF's dominance in that initial game vs. Cal, and was particularly pleased when USF pulled the upset of 5 seed Temple. After all, while the first win was, technically speaking, a tournament victory, without the Temple win, USF would have remained one of the schools never to have reached the round of 32.

At that point--perhaps before--I knew we were on borrowed time. Still, I started feeling pretty good about our Sweet Sixteen chances, especially when a 13-4 upset by the Ohio Bobcats meant we'd actually be the higher seeded team in the matchup. Unfortunately, Ohio proved too much for the Bulls, and the tourney trip ended in the first weekend.

Still, I'm proud of them. In my schizo world of college hoops (I follow three-and-a-half teams; my two alma maters, my current employer, and I keep an eye on UMCP) it was nice to be paying full-on attention to USF. And with a talented freshman point guard leading the way, I think the future's bright.
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