Is 20 wins the magic number for Bulls?

In its first game in the Big East tourney USF downed Villanova 56-47 and improved its record to 20-12 and added to its NCAA Tournament resume as the Bulls try to get into NCAAs for the first time in 20 years. The Bulls continues to make a strong case as it climbed to No. 39 in the RPI and face Notre Dame tonight to try and further it's case.

South Florida added a little more to its NCAA Tournament resume in its first game in the Big East tournament.

South Florida downed Villanova 56-47 in the second round Wednesday to improve its record to 20-12. Whether 20 wins are enough to get the Bulls into NCAAs for the first time in 20 years remains to be seen but South Florida continues to make a strong case as it was No. 41 in the RPI going into the game.

South Florida has won three of its last four games and seven of its last nine going into its quarterfinal matchup with No. 23 Notre Dame (21-10) on Thursday. The Fighting Irish drew a double bye into the quarterfinals.

Sophomore guard Eric Atkins leads Notre Dame with averages of 12.7 points and 4.0 assists a game. Sophomore guard Jerian Grant is averaging 12.5 points and 4.9 assists, and junior forward Jack Cooley has averages of 12.4 points and 9.2 rebounds.

South Florida has lost six straight games against Notre Dame, including 60-49 on the road Jan. 12.

Cooley led Notre Dame with 16 points in that game, while senior guard Scott Martin had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds and Grant scored 14 points. South Florida got 13 points from Augustus Gilchrist and 12 from Jawanza Poland.

South Florida shot just 38 percent from the field.

TRENDING: Stan Heath was named the Big East Coach of the Year, which could be a good omen as South Florida looks to gain its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1992. Only three times in the Big East's 33-year history has the Coach of the Year not led his team to the NCAAs -- Miami's Leonard Hamilton in 1995, Notre Dame's John MacLeod in 1997 and Seton Hall's Louis Orr in 2003. Heath earned $15,000 incentive bonus for winning the award.

NOTES, QUOTES
Heath: USF must win and wait

--It was a week of highs and lows for South Florida, the surprise team in the Big East. The Bulls did what they had to do to get into position to earn their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1992 by getting the signature victory they needed, upsetting No. 19 Louisville on the road. But when they had chance to virtually assure themselves of that bid, they let West Virginia manhandle them on their own home court.

Coach Stan Heath would not say the victory got his team into the tournament or that the loss will keep them out.

"I have no idea," Heath said to the Tampa Tribune. "I want my guys to clearly, clearly understand the only thing that matters is 6 o'clock next Sunday (when the NCAA's 68-team field is announced). Our only focus is on playing and winning. You can watch them (NCAA bracket projections). You can look at them. You can have your opinions. But it doesn't matter until next Sunday."

--For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. South Florida led the Big East in scoring defense. It also was last in the Big East in scoring offense. --South Florida held its final eight regular-season opponents to 56 points or fewer. BY THE NUMBERS: 57.2 -- The number of points a game allowed by South Florida as it led the Big East in scoring defense and finished eighth in the country.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I still have a chip on my shoulder because I don't think we get respect. We've done a lot in this league. We have to continue to earn respect." -- South Florida coach Stan Heath as his team heads into the Big East tournament, as quoted in the Tampa Tribune.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Notre Dame, Big East tournament quarterfinals, March 8
KEY MATCHUPS: Two hot teams square off in the conference quarters. South Florida has won seven of nine, while Notre Dame has won 10 of 12. The Irish won the teams' Jan. 10 meeting in South Bend, 60-49, with Jack Cooley, Scott Martin and Jerian Grant accounting for three-quarters of the Irish's scoring.

FUTURES MARKET: South Florida's run in the Big East and the fact that true freshman Anthony Collins could play a key role as a starter should really help coach Stan Heath in recruiting freshmen rather than relying on transfers. Recruiting there is a tough sell, going against Florida, Florida State and Miami without the basketball tradition but seeing that they can make an impact is important.

PLAYER NOTES
--Freshman G Anthony Collins scored a game-high 17 points in the 56-47 victory over Villanova in a Big East Conference tournament second-round game Wednesday, two days after being selected to Big East All-Rookie team. Collins has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games after doing so just five times in his first 20 games. Collins is averaging 13.4 points a game during that span to raise his season average to 8.3.

--Sophomore F Victor Rudd scored 13 points in 24 minutes Wednesday. He had scored a combined 14 points in his previous four games.

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