South Florida needs as many wins as possible to strengthen its resume for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
The Bulls missed a golden opportunity to post a real eye-opener Wednesday when they blew a 13-point lead and wound up losing at No. 2 Syracuse, 56-48. The loss dropped South Florida to 17-11 overall, 10-5 in the Big East.
However, South Florida has no time to fret about its missed opportunity. The Bulls still stand at No. 50 in the RPI and are a bubble team in their attempt to make the NCAAs for the first time in 20 years.
South Florida also has a good chance to finish in the top eight in the regular-season standings and draw a first-round bye in the Big East tournament. The Bulls are tied for fourth place with Georgetown and need to win only one of their final three games to gain the bye.
If South Florida finishes in the top four, it would receive a double bye into the quarterfinals.
Thus, South Florida needs to put the difficult loss behind it and focus on beating fellow bubble-sitter Cincinnati on Sunday. The Bearcats come in with a 20-8, 10-5 record after bating No. 17 Louisville on Feb. 23.
Cincinnati has won two games in a row and four of its last five. Sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick is averaging 15.0 points and 5.1 rebounds a game for the Bearcats. Senior guard Dion Dixon has a 13.6 scoring average, senior forward Yancy Gates has averages of 12.4 points and 9.2 rebounds, and junior guard Cashmere Wright is averaging 10.9 points and 4.6 assists.
South Florida has lost three of its last four games against Cincinnati, including two last season, 74-66 in the regular season at Cincinnati and 87-61 in the Big East tournament.
Kilpatrick led Cincinnati with 18 points in the regular-season game, during which Wright had 11 points and five assists and Dixon scored 11 points. South Florida was topped by Ron Anderson Jr.'s 13 points, while Augustus Gilchrist had 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Jawanza Poland finished with 10 points before fouling out.
Gates scored 25 points, Dixon had 21 and Kilpatrick added 12 in the conference tourney. Gilchrist led South Florida with 16 points, and Shaun Noriega scored 12.
TRENDING: South Florida has a 10-5 conference record, its best since joining the Big East at the start of the 2005-06 season. However, the Bulls are 10-1 against teams with .500 conference records or worse. Conversely, the loss to Syracuse dropped South Florida to 0-4 against teams with winning marks, as the Bulls have also fallen to Notre Dame, Marquette and Georgetown.
Collins powering unprecedented season for USF
--Anthony Collins is the best thing to happen to South Florida since orange juice.
The freshman guard has powered the Bulls to heights they have never before seen in basketball.
Running the show at the point, Collins has become a scorer to go with the engine that drives the offense.
He capped it off when USF went into as hostile an environment as there is to play in, Pitt's Petersen Field House, and led the Bulls to a 56-48 victory, scoring a career-high 22 points while dishing off six assists.
It marked the fourth time in the last six games Collins, not known for his scoring, has been in double figures.
It has been as if Collins is willing the Bulls to victory, of which they now have 10 in the Big East for the first time.
Against Villanova in the previous game won by South Florida, 65-51, it was more of the same.
Collins poked the ball away from Villanova's Ty Johnson with 14:07 remaining and USF up 27-25. After a scramble for the ball popped it into the USF frontcourt, Collins dove and scooped it up to a streaking Hugh Robertson, who completed a dunk despite incurring a flagrant foul from James Bell that sent him heels-over-head for a hard landing.
Robertson drained both free throws, and Ron Anderson Jr. made a layup to complete a six-point possession and break open a tight game.
"I just tried to hustle and grab the ball," Collins said. "I saw that Hugh was there, and I (passed it) up to him."
Moments later, Collins drew a foul from Markus Kennedy that upset Wildcats coach Jay Wright so badly he was hit with a technical. Collins hit four free throws to put the Bulls in front by 10.
A lead like that with one of the nation's top defenses, and it's over.
--By holding Pitt to 48 points on Feb. 19, USF maintained its grip on the lowest average points allowed in the Big East. Over their last four games, the Bulls have given up 51, 48, 51 and 48 and have allowed fewer than 60 points 17 times this year.
--To understand the feat of having double-digit conference victories this year, consider that in USF's first six seasons in the Big East, it won so much as two consecutive Big East games in only two stretches, both in the 2009-10 season. After going a dismal 11-57 in their first four years in the Big East, the Bulls have gone a competitive 20-28 in the last three seasons through Feb. 19.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13-1 -- The Bulls' record on their home court through Feb. 19. While that is good, one has to remember that the school's basketball facility is undergoing renovation, and the Bulls have not really been playing at their home court.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "People say it's a fluke, our success. We just wanted them to come out and see it's really real." -- F Hugh Robertson, on the season South Florida is putting together.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Cincinnati, Feb. 26
KEY MATCHUPS: Cincinnati has recovered from a lot this season, including the suspension from the brawl with Xavier and a three-game losing streak that threatened to bring the season down. Rather than quitting, the Bearcats bounced back and won four of five, although it came against the bottom half of the conference. This game figures to be a physical, tough defensive struggle with the Bearcats fourth in the Big East in defense to USF's leading 58.6 points per game given up. The Bearcats offer a lot of problems with their balance, making it difficult to take away any one player without being hurt elsewhere.
FUTURES MARKET: Victor Rudd Jr. is a star of the future who is having a pretty decent present. A sophomore transfer from Arizona, he has already scored 30 points in one game and 24 in one half. He averages 8.8 points and 4.4 rebounds and is a spectacular dunker.
"He's an impressive dunker," Bulls coach Stan Heath told the St. Petersburg Times. "It lights up my eyes, too. He does impressive things out there where you say, 'Wow!' He doesn't do the basic dunks, the basic plays. At certain times, I kind of don't like it. But I also know these are energy plays that our team and fans really get into.
"I want all our players to make aggressive plays. If they make an aggressive play and it doesn't go our way, I can live with it. When it's a non-aggressive play, that bothers me. I'd rather him make a play instead of shying away from contact and taking a floating fadeaway shot."
--Freshman G Anthony Collins tied a career high with 10 assists in a 56-48 loss at No. 2 Syracuse on Wednesday. He also scored a team-high 12 points for his first career double-double. That came three days after he set a career best with 22 points in a victory at Pittsburgh. Collins also had 10 assists in a win over Rutgers on Jan. 1. He is dishing out 5.5 helpers a game, which ranks sixth in the Big East.
--Junior F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick scored in double figures for the first time in six games when he finished with 11 points against Syracuse. Fitzpatrick has averaged just 6.3 points in the last six games to lower his season scoring average to 8.2.