It wasn't exactly what they would have hoped for from a 12-6 season in the Big East, but South Florida has gotten itself back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since first-round losses in 1990 and 1992.
Revitalized by Coach Stan Heath and an aggressive defense, the Bulls will play California, which finished the regular season at 24-9, Wednesday night in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio. The winner advances as the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region to play No. 5 seed Temple in Nashville.
When the Bulls go against California they will be seeking their first ever NCAA Tournament victory and it will be a freshman leading them.
Freshman guard Anthony Collins has been the catalyst of the South Florida revival.
The brother of former West Virginia starting guard J.D. Collins in the John Beilein era, Collins was injured early in the season and the team struggled but upon his return it found its stride, playing a possession offense and a physical, daring defense that proved itself to be the best in the Big East, giving up only 56.9 points a game
The Bulls have been offensively challenged and that could prove to be a problem in the NCAA, going through the season without any player averaging in double figures and with the lowest scoring average among all16 Big East teams.
Heath named Big East Coach of the Year
--Coach Stan Heath was selected as the Big East's Coach of the Year after turning around the South Florida program and for leading them into the NCAA Tournament.
--In the end, South Florida's resume included 12 victories in the Big East. Since the conference was formed, no Big East team that won 12 conference games had been left out of the NCAA Tournament.
--South Florida enters the NCAA Tournament without a single player averaging in double figures. The leading scorer with a 9.6 average is senior F Augustus Gilchrist.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I believe we have proven to be one of the best teams in our league. We have the kind of team that can be successful in the NCAA tournament. There was a team last year (VCU) that people thought shouldn't be in and they got to the Final Four." -- South Florida Coach Stan Heath on why he felt his team deserves a bid.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING REPORT: Defense. Forget everything else when it comes to South Florida. They play hard and they play defense. They are last in offense in the Big East, averaging 59.2 points a game, but it hardly matters because they are first in defense, giving up just 56.9. They contest every shot and play physically with players like Fs Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr. The Bulls don't shoot terribly, ranking 9th in the Big East in field goal percentage, but they don't shoot often, either. They took fewer shots than any other team in the conference. They have a budding star in PG Anthony Collins, who can score and pass, which makes the offense effective if not impressive.
FUTURES WATCH: PG Anthony Collins has a brother, J.D. Collins, who played at a top level with John Beilein at West Virginia, nearly helping the Mountaineers to the Final Four with his floor play at the point. Collins is a better player, a slick passer with maturity beyond his freshman status. He can run an offense and shoot the ball.
REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: The season got off to a terrible start. PG Anthony Collins was out with an injury for five games and F Jawanza Poland missed the first 11 games through injury, leaving a lot of work to do come conference time for the Bulls. Not a talented offensive team, the Bulls had to scrap for everything they got and they got a lot, pulling out 12 victories in the tough Big East Conference. True, they didn't have any signature wins until winning at Louisville late in the season. That completed their resume.
--Senior C Augustus Gilchrist became the 18th Bull in history to become a 1,000-point scorer and the first since Dominique Jones reached the figure in 2010. Gilchrist is now the 12th all-time leading scorer at USF
--Senior G Hugh Robertson got hot in league play this year and leads the team in field goal percentage in Big East games at 52 percent. Robertson has been charged with guarding the leading scorer on every opponent and has started every Big East game of his career.
--Junior G Jawanza Poland missed the first 11 games this year with a back injury but has been a force since returning, helping lead the revival of the Bulls.