Bulls Grew by Leaps and Bounds this Season

After USF's second round exit in the Big East Tourney, an NCAA bid doesn't seem likely for the Bulls. When you get that close and miss, it can be frustrating, but the NIT is a nice consolation prize, and as time goes on, USF fans should realize what a great season it truly was.

GETTING INSIDE

There are two ways to look at South Florida's season but only one way to look at the future.

One view of this season is that it was an excellent one for coach Stan Heath's program. USF made the biggest turnaround of any team in the six major conferences, finishing 20-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big East after going 9-22 overall and 4-14 in the league last season. The Bulls created a buzz, not only around Tampa, but around the nation with an exciting brand of basketball.

The other way to look at this season is how close the Bulls came to making the NCAA Tournament. When you get that close and fail, it can be frustrating. But as time goes on, USF fans will realize what a great season it truly was.

Next season is all about Dominique Jones. If the junior decides to return, the Bulls will be among the elite in the Big East -- they could even jump into the Top 25.

Jones is a special player. The guard was named First Team All-Big East and had 46 points at Providence on Jan. 23 and 37 against No. 17 Pittsburgh on Jan. 31. But he does more than just score. He is a complete player who might be ready for the NBA.

Next season rests on his shoulders. The pieces are in place, but the big piece needs to return or the puzzle will not be complete and USF again will be fighting for respectability.

GEORGETOWN 69, SOUTH FLORIDA 49: The Bulls dug too big a hole, falling behind 31-19 at halftime, and could never recover against the Hoyas. South Florida (20-12) went nearly eight minutes without a basket and shot just 29.6 percent (16 of 54) from the floor against a tough Georgetown zone defense.

Dominique Jones scored 21 points but was the only South Florida player in double figures. The Bulls were never able to put a run together to challenge Georgetown in the second half.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Senior G Mike Mercer grabbed eight rebounds to lead USF against UConn. It was the third straight in which he had at least seven boards.

--G Dominique Jones is the only player in the nation to average more than 20 points, six rebounds and three assists a game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I told the coaches after the game: pack five suits. Don't come up there with one and say you've got to go to the dry cleaners. This team's hungry, and I think we're headed straight up the mountain. I'm not going to stop." -- Senior Chris Howard to the St. Petersburg Times.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP: 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 got hot 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. They also swept Providence, the third straight year they have swept a Big East opponent.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG Anthony Crater, G Chris Howard, G Dominique Jones, G Mike Mercer, F Gus Gilchrist, F Jarrid Famous. Key Sub -- F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.

GAME REVIEW:

South Florida 99, Providence 93

South Florida 63, DePaul 59

South Florida 75, Connecticut 68

South Florida 58, DePaul 49 (Big East tournament first round)

Georgetown 69, South Florida 49 (Big East tournament second round)

GAME PREVIEW:

Awaiting tournament berth.

POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: The Bulls would have been a lock for the NCAA Tournament with a win over Georgetown. At 20-12, they are a longshot. Big East bubble teams Seton Hall and Notre Dame both deserve the nod ahead of the Bulls. South Florida finished 9-9 in the Big East and has an RPI rating of 63. Big wins have come over Pittsburgh and Kent State at home and Georgetown on the road.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Dominique Jones finished with 21 points against the Hoyas and scored 20 or more in five straight games. He was 6 of 18 from the floor despite constant pressure from the Georgetown defense. Jones did have six turnovers and missed all five of his three-point attempts, but you can't blame Jones for this loss. He played a solid game.

--Augustus Gilchrist was the man with the ability to send this team to the NCAA Tournament, but the big man came up short in the Big East tournament. He had nine points on 3-of-9 shooting after scoring just two points on 1-of-8 shooting against DePaul. The 6-10 sophomore was hurt for a good part of the season and should come back next season with more determination and better results.

--Mike Mercer stepped up nicely for the Bulls against DePaul, making 7 of 13 shots for 14 points in 32 minutes. But the senior was a non-factor against Georgetown. The 6-5 guard needed to play well for the Bulls to have a shot. Instead, he was 1 of 9 from the floor and finished with just two points.


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