The Bulls bubble has burst.
And while South Florida won't give up on its hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament, it's awfully hard to patch a hole in a bubble.
When St. John's went into Tampa on Feb. 20 and defeated the Bulls, 74-58, South Florida's late bid for an at-large NCAA tournament bid suffered a crippling blow.
"We don't have to worry about that now because this probably took us out of that equation," coach Stan Heath said. "We can work ourselves back in it, but we don't have to worry about all that bubble talk."
The Bulls record fell to 16-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big East. Nothing short of a miracle, which would include a run in the Big East Tournament, can resurrect South Florida's chances.
This season's run of the Bulls did put something into focus for them, and that is how much an expanded NCAA Tournament field, as some are now proposing, would help teams like South Florida.
"I've always been in favor it simply because the landscape in college basketball has grown," Heath said. "I look at percentages more than a set amount."
Heath understands that sometimes it isn't right to mess with a winning formula, which the NCAA tournament is.
"We have a great tournament right now. That's why it's difficult to make another adjustment, but every time we have (made adjustments) it has gotten better. I don't look at it as a watering down affect," Heath said.
What he sees is a better tournament with chances to win for more teams.
"I look at the George Mason team out there, which was maybe one of the last teams to get in a few years ago and they got all the way to the Final Four," Heath said.
This talk will be continued in the future.
"I'd like to learn more about it because it could be very healthy for our game," Heath said.
Notes & Quotes:
--Sometimes being a team's top scorer can work against you, as G Dominique Jones is now learning. Jones went off on a four-game spree as January turned to February, scoring 46, 28, 37 and 29 points in consecutive games. Since then defenses have gone after him, and while hardly shutting him down, they have slowed him down. In the four games since then, Jones has scored 10, 16, 26 and 17, which is 71 fewer points.
--G Dominique Jones could be wearing down. He has missed only nine minutes in the last nine games and actually is averaging more than 40 minutes a game as two were overtime games.
ON THE SPOT
F Gus Gilchrist has come back from a two-month injury but has not gotten his game legs yet. The big guy, who led the Bulls and scoring when injured on Dec. 2, has scored only 19 points in three games. His last game was the most disappointing, as he managed only two points and two rebounds while playing only 19 minutes against St. John's.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"It's a moving target. It changes daily. We've just got to take care of business and see where the chips land at the end of the year." -- Coach Stan Heath on his team's chances to make the NCAA Tournament after losing to St. John's.
South Florida grew by leaps and bounds this season with G Dominique Jones leading the way. For much of the season the Bulls looked about as expected, but they caught fire in late January, winning four straight games, including an upset of No. 7 Georgetown on the road. They won four consecutive home games and five of seven overall before suffering a disappointing home upset at the hands of a struggling St. John's team on Feb. 20.
Marquette 63, South Florida 52
South Florida 65, Cincinnati 57
St. John's 74, South Florida 58
at Villanova, Wednesday, Feb. 24
vs. Providence, Saturday, Feb. 27
at DePaul, Tuesday, March 2
vs. Connecticut, Saturday, March 6
South Florida has virtually one chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament and that is to pull off a stunning upset at Villanova on Feb. 24. The Wildcats are 22-3, but the Bulls must win that to finish the season on the plus side of .500 in the Big East. The task of beating a Top 5 team on the road is monumental for South Florida, which is 3-5 in Big East games away from home. And the Bulls must do it coming off a home loss to St. John's. "I'm just trying to get this sour taste out of my mouth,'' G Mike Mercer said. "I can't wait for Wednesday.''
--After struggling through the first half of his senior season, G Mike Mercer, a transfer, has found new life in the second half. After scoring in double figures in only two of the first 13 games, Mercer has hit his stride and reached double figures in eight games. He has made 12 of his past 17 shots through the Bulls' game against St. John's on Feb. 20.
--Senior PG Chris Howard has turned the ball over only 10 times in the past nine games, which helps explain the run made by South Florida.