by Craig Dimitri
Villanova will face the Bulls of South Florida on Tuesday night, in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Obviously, USF is not well-known to us as Villanova partisans, given that the school is a newcomer to the Big East and was admitted explicitly to give the football wing of the conference enough teams to survive. And so one consequence is that Villanova will be traveling to USF on Tuesday night, rather than to Providence, let's say - a long-time Big East rival that the Wildcats won't even face this season, unless fate matches the two schools in the Big East tournament.
There will be another - and more interesting - innovation for tonight's VU/USF game: the game will be carried solely on ESPN360. There will be no other television or Internet video feed available, although of course we can still catch the radio broadcast, on 990 AM, with Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby...
The Viewpoint On South Florida
This is the first meeting between the schools.
Coach and Context
Robert McCullum (3rd season, 27-48 record at USF).
Had previously had success during three seasons as the head coach at Western Michigan, as well as serving as an assistant at Illinois, Florida, and Kansas State. (Worth noting: the USF AD who hired McCallum in 2003 was Lee Roy Selmon, the former star linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, back in the day.)
How the Bulls Have Done So Far
0-5 Big East, 6-12 overall, on a seven-game losing streak.
USF began the year by beating Alcorn State and Jacksonville at home, before losing their third home game to Florida International (the Golden Panthers, one of the great nicknames in Division I) in double OT.
The Bulls then headed for a holiday tournament, known as the "Price Cutter Classic" (not quite the same ring of prestige, as, let's say, the Jimmy V or Maui Classics), which is staged by Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri. In the opener, they fell to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by 12, and won the consolation game against Georgia Southern.
They won a true road game at Stetson, boosting their record to 4-2. Returning home, they were blown out by Michigan, and blew out Florida Atlantic, in turn.
The Bulls were invited to a more dignified holiday tournament, the 42nd Rainbow Classic in Hawaii, where they played their next three contests. USF lost to Iowa State and Oregon State before beating Loyola Marymount for 7th place. Their record now stood at 6-5. But LMU has been their last victory.
Returning home to Tampa, the Bulls lost to Bethune-Cookman in OT and UAB in successive contests, falling below .500 at 6-7.
In light of such a dismal nonconference record (all six victories had come against cupcakes and they had no wins in true road games), it would be reasonable to think that their maiden voyage in the Big East would be pretty rocky - as a matter of fact, I would have guessed that they would lucky to win more than one of the 16 games.
However, that assumption has not turned out to be true. Although, as expected, the Bulls have lost all five of their BE contests thus far, four of the five games have been close. Their first game was against nationally-ranked West Virginia, in Tampa. The Bulls gave WVU a surprisingly stiff fight, given that they had no wins over any major-conference opponents, and lost just 57-53.
The Bulls then went to the Carrierome, facing another ranked opponent, and lost to the Orangemen by just six. Returning to Tampa, the Bulls experienced their first thrashing in the BE, losing to St. John's by 19.
But then the Bulls continued to play surprisingly well, on a two game road trip to the Northeast. They lost to Georgetown in the MCI Center, by a narrow 50-47 margin, and then nearly sunk the Pirate Ship at the Meadowlands. The Bulls actually had a 13 point lead, with less than four minutes to play, but the Pirates rallied, forcing overtime and finally triumphing, 94-89.
So although USF is 0-5 BE, 6-12 overall, they are a far more dangerous team than that record would indicate. On the road, they've battled Syracuse, Georgetown, and Seton Hall right down to the end, and at home, they played well against WVU. Only the St. John's game was a blowout.
G 6-2 Soph Colin Dennis - 3 pts/game
G 6-2 Senior James Holmes - 18.7 pts/game
F 6-6 Junior Melvin Buckley - 12.4 pts/5.8 rebs/game
F 6-6 Junior McHugh Mattis (great name!) - 10.4 pts/7.8 rebs/game
C 6-10 Senior Solomon Jones - 13.5 pts/9.7 rebs/3 blocks/game
It is important - after facing the top-shelf competition of Texas and Syracuse over the last ten days, that 'Nova (ranked #6 in both polls) not look past these Bulls, despite a seven game losing streak they drag into the game. As noted above, they've almost won four of their five games, three of them on the road.
Also, Allan Ray is listed as "doubtful" for the game, due to an injury. Ironically, VU will be playing a more conventional three-guard lineup, if Ray is unavailable. Obviously, despite USF's gallant battles, if Ray had to miss one game in particular, during the rest of the season, tonight's game would be the optimal one...
I will provide a full recap after the game...