Before you can improve by leaps and bounds, you have to take baby steps, and that is what Coach Stan Heath has done at South Florida.
Now, there is some tangible proof that his team is getting better.
When the Bulls defeated San Diego in the Las Vegas Holiday Classic, it gave them nine victories this season, exceeding last year total. According to the Tampa Tribune, only three other schools had surpassed last year's victory total when the Bulls did.
South Florida was 9-22 last season, but has gotten off to a 10-2 start.
"We feel good about ourselves," Heath said. "Ten wins is a good benchmark. Now it's a new ballgame. We've got to come back after Christmas and be an even better team."
The problem is that now Big East play begins and the Bulls go into it without a key component, forward Gus Gilchrist, out because of an ankle injury. It's expected he will miss at least a month.
Gilchrist was leading the Bulls in scored with 18.8 points a game when injured. The injury leaves Heath only eight players on his roster.
--When South Florida went 2-0 in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, it marked the first time the school had gone 2-0 in a tournament since beating South Alabama and New Orleans in the 2003 USF Holiday Classic.
--G Mike Mercer set a career high when he scored 19 points against San Diego.
--G Dominque Jones continues to be one of the most prolific scorers in the conference, leading the Bulls at 18.6 points a game.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: If you are going to beat Louisville, chances usually are that you better catch them early. That is the good news about South Florida's Big East opener on Dec. 30, but the bad news is that it is on the road, which is never a good thing. The fact is, January will get off to a tough start for one of the improving teams in the conference for its three games after Louisville are Notre Dame, at Syracuse, and back home against West Virginia. That's two Top Ten teams in the Orange and Mountaineers. But, hey, you have to play them all and it's probably better early than late.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not looking for a dogfight. We're best when we jump out early." -- G Dominique Jones on the importance of this short-handed team getting off to quick starts.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Coach Stan Heath has been playing shorthanded, with a roster of only eight players, but he has got his Bulls playing Big East defense and that is making a huge difference. The Bulls have not given up 70 points this season and rank fourth in the conference behind three defensive giants -- Pittsburgh, Georgetown and West Virginia. However, the biggest loss wasn't of a game but instead of a player, F Gus Gilchrist going down for at least a month. G Dominque Jones continues to establish himself as one of the league's top scorers and PG Chris Howard is taking care of the basketball.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG Chris Howard, G Dominque Jones, G Mike Mercer, F Toarlynn Fitzpatrick, F Jarred Famous. Key Subs -- G Justin Leemow.
South Florida 69, Central Florida 65
South Florida 69, San Francisco 49
South Florida 69, San Diego 60
At Louisville, Wednesday, Dec. 30
Vs. Notre Dame, Tuesday, Jan. 5
At Syracuse, Sunday, Jan. 10
Vs. West Virginia, Wednesday, Jan. 13
Vs. Rutgers, Saturday, Jan. 16
IN FOCUS: Having established that it is an improved team in pre-conference play, South Florida must try to establish itself early by winning on the road. The season opens at Louisville and while the Cardinals have struggled, even losing a couple of home games, they seem to be getting into full stride and will pressure a South Florida team that doesn't have a lot of depth. After hosting Notre Dame, which offers a completely different sort of challenge, South Florida has the nightmare trip of the Big East, going into the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse.
--F Gus Gilchrist, who is a key player for coach Stan Heath, is expected to be out until at least mid-January because of an ankle injury.
--G Dominque Jones averaged 22.7 points and 4.7 assists during a three-game winning streak to earn his first Big East Player of the Week Award on Dec. 21.
USF Mens Hoops:Getting Inside
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