The first round of the NCAA Tournament is always full of interesting little side stories. And I think USF is one of the most interesting ones, but the team has gotten almost no mention in the pre-tournament media coverage. For any national media that might be reading, allow me to suggest some possible story angles:
- Making the NCAA tournament after being picked to finish 14th in the Big East, and having an all-time conference record of 23-79 (.225 winning percentage) going into the season. If any team made the NCAA Tournament from a worse recent history and pre-season starting position than that, I'd love to see it. Calm down, Northwestern, I said "made the NCAA Tournament."
- Having to play the entire season on the road, including two Division II teams in their own gyms (Tampa in the exhibition and Florida Southern in the regular season). How many power conference schools have to do that? As much as football analysts love to bring up the "started in trailers" bit, you'd think this little piece of adversity would at least rate a mention.
- The first NCAA trip in 20 years. Harvard has rightly gotten that storyline this season (first trip since 1946, after an excruciating near-miss last season). And two other teams had similar streaks end (Southern Miss, 1991; Loyola-Maryland, 1994). But it's still been a long, strange trip since Boise in 1992.
- Also, that USF has never won an NCAA Tournament game. They could end that streak, leaving only Nebraska and Northwestern as major conference schools to have never done it. (We'll debate "does the play-in round count?" later, if it turns out to be relevant.)
- In this age of advanced sports statistics, analysts look for the types of teams that go on to win championships. A common question about college basketball is whether it is possible to win a championship with a great offense and a questionable defense. USF makes an interesting outlier in this regard: they've got a terrific defense (16th in Ken Pomeroy's defensive ratings), but a very weak offense (177th). The reverse question is rarely asked, probably because such teams tend not to make the NCAA Tournament. Well, this one has. Get your calculators ready.
- For all the complaints about our dull style of play, we've got some great dunkers in this team. Jawanza Poland has a few YouTube-worthy throwdowns. And Victor Rudd's posterization of God'sgift Achiuwa is one for the ages. And he seems pretty humble about it. If I humiliated a guy named God's Gift like that, I'd start my own religion.
- And speaking of our style of play, ESPN's "college basketball experts" should spend less time whining about having to watch it and more time discussing how it got a team with all our disadvantages into the NCAA Tournament.
- The recruiting angle. USF's players were almost all three-star recruits, in a league where most schools use three-star recruits to wipe off the floor during game breaks. Even Providence and Rutgers and DePaul bring in the occasional Top 100 guy. Yet, here we are and here they aren't. You'd think there would be more curiosity about how Stan Heath pulled this off.
Maybe a marketable nickname, like "40 minutes of hell" would help? Personally, I think the team ought to embrace Rick Pitino's "like a root canal" comment. We are Team Root Canal. We don't always win, but we do always make you suffer long, slow, tedious pain. (At least since after the Georgetown game.)
Lots more after the jump.
There are probably even more, but that should be enough to get the national media's pens moving, word processors processing, and blogs blogging about USF basketball. I'd appreciate a hat tip. Thanks.