There is nothing normal about the Big East standings these days, especially when you see defending regular-season champion Pittsburgh and Villanova down at the bottom. But just as surprising is to see South Florida grouped with Georgetown, Connecticut and West Virginia at 3-2.
Bulls coach Stan Heath has put things together with a strong defense and his team won three of four through Sunday.
The latest victory was the best. With less than six minutes to go, South Florida was trailing by 10 points a juiced Seton Hall team that had just joined the national rankings, at No. 24.
Using the defense that has become by far the best in the Big East, the Bulls rallied at home for a 56-55 victory, their first against a ranked team since Feb. 3, 2010 when they won at No. 7 Georgetown.
"Coach (Stan Heath) has been harping on us all season about playing a full 40 minutes," USF senior forward Ron Anderson Jr. told the Tampa Tribune. "If we don't quit, good things can happen."
Dynamic freshman point guard Anthony Collins -- who has changed the outlook of this Bulls team -- created the winning margin with a perfect three-quarter court pass to Toarlyn Fitzpatrick for a layup on which he was fouled. The play set up a 56-53 lead which South Florida would protect for 55 seconds.
As it is with most games when a team trying to build itself into a contender, it still wasn't easy, but when Jordan Theodore, an 82.4 percent free-throw shooter and a man USF Coach Stan Heath called "probably the best player in our league right now," missed the front end of a one-and-one for Seton Hall, the Bulls could celebrate.
The victory came just after a dismal loss to Notre Dame, but Anderson Jr. sensed something good was coming after that game when he said: "As a team, we're a lot more comfortable. The seniors have another year playing with each other, and the chemistry is building."
Bulls top their best Big East start
--At 3-2, this is the first time South Florida has a winning Big East record five games into the season.
--While South Florida found a way to beat Seton Hall during the week, it also created a sure path to defeat in a loss to Notre Dame, managing only four assists against 13 turnovers while hitting just 1 of 13 3-points shots, that by big man Augustus Gilchrist.
BY THE NUMBERS: 58.1 -- The number of points South Florida was allowing opponents to score this season, through the weekend, the best total in the Big East.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think they're a top-tier team (in the Big East), I really do. Their size really bothered us. They're going to be in every game because of their size." -- Seton Hall Coach Ralph Willard, in the Tampa Tribune, after being upset by South Florida.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. St. John's, Jan. 18
KEY MATCHUPS: After a brief three-game winning streak, St. John's fell on some tough times in the Big East, losing three of its next four games. The Johnnies did show they were dangerous, however, with an upset at Cincinnati. Defensively they are at a disadvantage against South Florida, a team that lives on defense and that is has discovered an offense with point guard Anthony Collins.
KEY MATCHUPS: For a while this looked like it might be a battle between the two worst teams in the league but South Florida has really put it together and while DePaul has not found a winning formula yet, it is vastly improved. The challenge for South Florida will be to find ways to score against the pressing defense of DePaul while, at the same time, controlling F Cleveland Melvin and G Brandon Young, two of the best offensive players in the conference. Melvin has slumped lately while Young is holding his own.
FUTURES MARKET: Against Villanova, the South Florida bench was important, scoring 48 points as G Jawanza Poland scored 20 but in a loss to Notre Dame it was almost non-existent, save for Poland. Coach Stan Heath called him a "lone ranger" off the bench as he produced 12 points. The way Heath has it set up now, Poland is the first man off the bench and doing an outstanding job of creating offense for the team.
--F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick led the Bulls in rebounding with 6.7 per game while also shooting 43.2 from 3-point range, through the weekend.
--Freshman PG Anthony Collins was playing like a veteran. In 13 games, with just 11 starts, he dished out 65 assists to just 38 turnovers while giving the team an offensive zest it didn't have. He had 10 assists against Rutgers on Jan. 1, the second best total ever for the Bulls.