The Bulls went to the Big East tournament with the 15th seed, ahead of only DePaul, which they beat twice in the regular season. It was supposed to be one and done and looked like it when they trailed Villanova by 16 points.
But South Florida rallied behind the 3-point shooting of guard Shaun Noriega and the play of junior forward Augustus Gilchrist and pulled off the upset, an upset that Coach Stan Heath hopes will springboard the team into next season.
"I think it means a lot," Heath said. "We tasted success here in the tournament. We beat a very strong team in Villanova, and I think that will give us some confidence in the future in terms of winning against tough teams. So that was, I think, a big win and something we can build on in the future."
Next year is going to depend a great deal on Gilchrist, who gives the Bulls the big inside power force who can move outside that is necessary in the Big East. He was uncertain of his future in New York.
"(The Villanova win) gave us some positive things to take with us this summer in a really bruising season for us," Gilchrist said. "I haven't thought about (draft). I'm just looking at the game, reviewing it to see the things I need to work on this summer to try to become a better player."
Will he return? He wouldn't say.
"I'm going to work on being a better player," he repeated.
If he comes back, this will be a veteran team that seems to be moving in the right direction. Experience could turn a number of close losses from this year into victories.
--The 23 losses suffered by the Bulls this season were a school record, one more than they lost in 2008-09.
--The16-point deficit USF overcame in defeating Villanova in the first round of the Big East Tournament was the biggest deficit ever overcome in the tournament's history.
--Only Seton Hall shot the ball worse than South Florida from the floor this year and no one in the conference shot the 3-pointer worse than the Bulls' 30.3 percentage.
FINAL RECORD: 10-23, 3-15, 15th in the Big East
2010-11 SEASON RECAP: Life after Dominique Jones was just what it was expected to be -- hard. The Bulls thought their star guard would return for his senior season but he opted to go to the NBA, leaving them without a dynamic player to build around. And early-season injury and a mid-year suspension of their top big man, 6-10 Augustus Gilchrist, cost him three games completely. He did not start eight games and that hurt because he was a force when he was on top of his game. He averaged 20 points a game over his last six games. He finished the season averaging 13.4 points a game with 6.0 rebounds. The problem was that the Bulls were quite competitive for Coach Stan Heath, 15 of its losses being by fewer than 10 points. The major problem was in ability to score, ranking last in the Big East by averaging just 61.9 points a game, almost five less than any other team.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm happy for these guys; to see them celebrate in the locker room. It's like a monkey or an elephant just came off our back. I'm hoping it carries over. The feeling with the players as a team is going to be very good (today)." -- USF Coach Stan Heath after his team pulled a first-round upset of Villanova in the Big East Tournament.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: The Bulls are scheduled to lose only one player, senior Jarrid Famous, a large inside contributor. If Augustus Gilchrist returns for his senior season, the Bulls will be deep in experience and have a go-to scorer inside who also can hit from outside. PG Anthony Crater got a good feel for running this team and figures to shoot the ball more often next season. With Ron Anderson Jr. and Gilchrist, the Bulls should be bullish on the boards.
THE BAD NEWS: The worst scenario, of course, would be for the undecided C Augustus Gilchrist, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, to decide to enter the NBA draft. That would be two of three years where USF lost its best player early. The Bulls are in need of a dynamic scorer from the outside even if Gilchrist returns, but will really need it if he exits.
KEY RETURNEES: Junior C Augustus Gilchrist, 13.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg; Junior PG Anthony Crater, 3.9 ppg, 137/76 asst/to; sophomore G Shaun Noriega, 6.4 ppg, 53 3s; junior F Ron Anderson Jr., 7.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg; sophomore G Jawanza Poland, 9.1 ppg.
--Junior PG Anthony Crater ended his season prematurely when, in the Big East Conference Tournament loss to Cincinnati, he went down just before halftime with what was diagnosed as a dislocated right shoulder. Further tests were planned. Crater had been the star of the victory over Villanova in the first round of the Big East Tournament, hitting two key shots in the final seconds and dishing out seven assists in the game.
--Sophomore G Shaun Noriega proved himself to be a 3-point shooting threat this year and in the Big East Tournament stepped up big time with a pair of double-figure games, including 22 against Villanova. He finished the year with as many 3-point goals as the next Bulls had combined.
--Junior F Augustus Gilchrest finished the season with a bang, averaging 20 points a game over the last six games and including in that a career-high 32-point outburst against DePaul.