As I did last year, I'm taking the occasion of Festivus to hold an airing of grievances toward USF basketball. Actually, this is more of a question than a grievance, because I'm not really sure what the backstory is on this one.
Have you noticed the home non-conference schedules over the last several years? Just from name recognition, they've been really underwhelming. These are the non-Big East home games in the Stan Heath era:
2011-12: Vermont, Marist, Georgia Southern, FAU, Florida A&M Cleveland State
2010-11: Southern Miss, St. Francis (NY), Georgia Southern, Liberty, VCU, Auburn, James Madison
2009-10: Virginia, Kent State, FAU, Hampton, Central Michigan, UCF
2008-09: SMU, High Point, Northeastern, Niagara, Iona
2007-08: Cleveland State, East Carolina, UCF, UAB, St. Francis (NY), Winston-Salem State
I think 2007-08 was influenced by USF's requirements for leaving Conference USA, where they had to schedule games in football and basketball against that league. Heath took Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002, so that game is understandable. And there have been a couple of diamond-in-the-rough games, like VCU last year. But you have to go back to Wake Forest in 2006 to find a non-conference home game that you saw on the schedule and thought, "I've heard of them and they are a quality opponent, I am interested in seeing this game." (Actually Wake Forest finished below .500 that year, but in the six seasons before that the Demon Deacons had run off five NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT bid.)
How about a ranked non-conference opponent? For that, you have to go all the way back to December 8, 2001, the last time the Gators played in the Sun Dome.
I don't understand, and I truly mean that I don't understand and am wondering here. And I'm not saying anything about the caliber of teams they play, because every team has their share of tomato cans on the schedule. But why are the Bulls playing nearly all of their tough non-conference games on the road? Isn't that what a mid-major or low-major team does? Does no one who's good want to visit Tampa? If they do, is USF just not interested?
There's not much they can do if they can't get anyone notable to travel to the Sun Dome or to the Forum (like Wake Forest did, as part of a doubleheader). But if they can bring someone with name recognition to Tampa and choose not to, I wish they'd reconsider their stance. You have a completely disinterested fan base, student body, and community that won't be inspired to buy more tickets no matter how many times you beat the St. Francises and High Points and Georgia Southerns of the world. Give them someone intriguing and maybe they change their mind. And it would be nice to give the team a chance to win a big game at home so that they don't head into Big East play unsure of their true potential.
Maybe USF needs to force their way into the Big East-SEC Invitational, which they've been left out of the past three seasons. (The series against Auburn was separate from that.) Maybe they need ESPN to help them out, like they used to do with the Dodge Shootout, which brought Texas, Wisconsin, and Florida to the Sun Dome, among others. Maybe they need to just be more aggressive on their own when it comes to setting up home games. But I hope there's something they can do, because as the football team has proven time and time again, a big non-conference win can really drive fan interest for the rest of the season.