As they used to say in the cigarette ads, you've come a long way baby.
South Florida is back in the NIT for the first time since the 2001-02 season and the first time as a member of the Big East.
Considering how far the Bulls have come since Stan Heath was named coach and that they found themselves trying to compete in what many consider to be the toughest basketball conference in America, it is a huge step forward.
The Bulls are in their eighth NIT, facing N.C. State of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
South Florida comes in as the No. 3 seed after winning 20 games this season and they do so with an improving team that struggled through the regular season without one of its two stars for much of the year.
Augustus Gilchrist missed two full months with a leg injury that put a tremendous burden on guard Dominique Jones, who had a spectacular season.
--The Bulls won 20 games for only the second time in 39 years of basketball.
--Dominique Jones currently stands second all-time in points for a single season but has no chance to match Charlie Bradley's record of 901 points in the 1982-83 season.
COACH: Stan Heath, three years at South Florida, first year in NIT
KEYS TO VICTORY: Stopping Tracy Smith of North Carolina State will be the No. 1 objective of the South Florida Bulls as they move into NIT play. A 6-8 center out of Detroit who fills space, Smith scored in double figures in every game but two this year and scored 19 or more points in 16 games. Scoring points is tough against N.C. State, a defensive minded team that should provide a real challenge for Dominique Jones. The Wolfpack did not allow more than 61 points in the final 10 games of the year and held 18 to fewer than 60 points.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We gave up some games we should have won. That makes a difference right here. Me setting the bar that high, you know, that's where it should be set at. If you want to be big-time players and have a big-time program, that's the way it should be set." -- G Dominique Jones, quoted in the Tampa Tribune, after being eliminated from the Big East Tournament.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING REPORT: The South Florida offense centers around the play of G Dominique Jones, the leading scorer in the Big East. Jones shot 45 percent from the floor and 76 percent from the free throw line while averaging better than 20 points a game. He is a slasher more than a jump shooter, a strong player who makes use of his body for position. Jones has a good complementary cast around him with two big players in F Gus Gilchrist, who can knock it down from the outside, and rebounder Jarrid Famous while PG Chris Howard has become a scorer and averaged double figures and G Mike Mercer added to his scoring late in the season. The Bulls will push the pace. Defensively, USF comes at you and actually is capable of holding most teams to fewer than 70 points. However, if you want to see how to score on them, watch the two Providence game tapes where the Friars hit for 105 and 93 points, but lost both games.
vs. N.C. State, Wednesday, March 16, NIT, first round
--G Dominique Jones won the Big East's scoring title with an average of 20 points a game.
--Jones says he expects to decide if he will leave for the NFL after the team makes its post-season run but Coach Stan Heath said he expects him to return.
--F Augustus Gilchrist is completely healed from the ankle injury that sidelined him for more than two months this year.