It is only natural to wonder when the other shoe might drop for South Florida . After all, the Bulls were picked to finish 14th in the 16-team Big East in the preseason coaches' poll.
Thus, it's easy to question whether South Florida 's 67-47 loss at No. 17 Marquette on Tuesday was just a speed bump in what has been a surprising season or the beginning of the end of the Bulls being contenders.
The loss ended a three-game winning streak and dropped South Florida to 12-9 overall and 5-3 in the Big East. The 20-point margin of defeat was the Bulls' largest in a conference game this season, though it didn't quite match the 70-42 shellacking they took at Kansas on Dec. 3.
South Florida has gone 7-4 since that loss in Lawrence and it will be interesting to see how it bounces back after being dominated in Milwaukee .
Junior guard Vincent Council is averaging 16.2 points and 7.1 assists a game and is one of four Providence players scoring in double figures. The others are sophomore guard Bryce Cotton (14.8), sophomore guard Gerard Coleman (14.4) and freshman forward LaDontae Henton (12.8), who is also pulling down 8.9 rebounds a game.
South Florida split a pair of games with Providence last season, winning 79-72 at home then losing 68-63 on the road.
Hugh Robertson led South Florida with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the win at Tampa , while Jawanza Poland scored 13 points, Augustus Gilchrist had 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick added 10 points. In the rematch at Providence , Council had 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Friars, while Poland led South Florida with 20 points, Fitzpatrick added 13 and Gilchrist finished with 10.
STAR WATCH: When South Florida senior forward Augustus Gilchrist, the Bulls' leading scorer and biggest player at 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, gets in foul trouble, there is no replacing him. That was very evident in the Bulls' 67-47 loss at No. 17 Marquette on Tuesday. Gilchrist was limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble and finished with five points and two rebounds two days after scoring a season-high 22 points in a victory at DePaul. Meanwhile, Marquette forward Davante Gardner dominated in the paint and had 15 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
<Headline>Surprising Bulls' confidence is growing in Big East play</Headline>
South Florida was selected to finish 14th in the Big East Conference preseason poll, probably by the same people who said the Edsel would be the American car of the future.
After a slow start, the Bulls had won five of six games through their easy victory over an improved DePaul team on Jan. 22.
"It's a little early to start making judgments (about the Big East power structure)," he said. "But there are teams (ranked) at the bottom of the league that everybody thought weren't good ... but they are good. South Florida can beat you."
Teams first started taking note when the Bulls beat Seton Hall, then ranked No. 24. It was the first time they had beaten a ranked team in almost two years.
Now there have to be thoughts of holding it together and having a shot at postseason play.
"Ever since the season began, I said getting a little confidence would be a great thing," Heath said. "I do believe we are getting better. Our defense is better. Our rebounding is better. We're going in the right direction. It always seems to come down to us being more consistent on the offensive end.
"We've had some opportunities, but couldn't cash in on some of them. It's a long season, but we're battling. I like the effort."
The effort against DePaul in the latest game was a perfect example.
The Bulls shot 56 percent and held DePaul to 33.6 percent. South Florida led in rebounding, 38-24.
--With two victories in the last week, the Bulls went to 12-8 and 5-2 in Big East play, surpassing both their overall (10) and conference (three) win totals from last season through just 20 games.
--The Bulls' defense remains solid, allowing fewer than 58 points a game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 26-5 -- The margin by which South Florida's bench outscored St. John 's in pulling out a victory.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are definitely some familiar-sounding elite teams in the Big East. I do think there's a wide-open area maybe sixth through the rest of the way. Things could happen there. If you can win some games, you can jump in there. But you can't look past anyone in the Big East. That will get you beat." -- USF coach Stan Heath, on the opportunities before his improving team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Providence , Jan. 29
KEY MATCHUPS: Solid chance to add to the credentials here against a struggling Providence team that hasn't shown the improvement the Bulls have. Providence has lost six of seven and has only one road victory. The Friars do play up-tempo and have a couple of offensive forces in Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton, averaging 16 and 14 points, respectively.
"That was pretty impressive," coach Stan Heath said of Rudd in the Tampa Tribune. "And some pretty impressive plays."
Rudd was 5-for-7 from 3-point range, added a tip dunk on a rebound and then came the highlight, going over God's Gift Achiuwa for a one-handed slam that sent the Red Storm forward down.
--Senior F Ron Anderson Jr., another banger at 6-8, 255, compounded South Florida's problems inside as he fouled out in just 20 minutes in Tuesday's loss to Marquette . Anderson failed to score and had just one rebound. He had been playing very consistently since failing to score in back-to-back games against Florida A&M and Auburn in mid-December, averaging 9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds in the previous nine games.
--Junior F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick kept things from getting completely out of hand as he had 19 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday, both game highs. It was Fitzpatrick's fourth double-double of the season and seventh in his career. It also marked his 10th career double-digit rebounding game.Click here for more info and to get the inside scoop!