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Men’s Basketball Routed By Elon 74-61. So Now What?

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The team picked to finish eighth in the Colonial this season boatraces the Bulls at home. So what should USF fans and the administration do now?

NCAA Basketball: Temple at South Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not here to pick on USF men’s basketball. Our usual caveats about covering bad teams go here: we appreciate the young men that wear the uniform. We want them to win and be successful not just in sports, but as graduates of the institution we love dearly someday. We don’t take things personally, and we’d absolutely love to be wrong about this team. See USF Football 2015 for the most recent example of this.

But we’re also not here to deny reality.

That 2015 football team always had the talent due to the continuously outstanding recruiting of Willie Taggart and his staff. We just didn’t think they’d ever adjust the scheme to fit said talent. Well guess what? They did. And they’ve been a joy ever since, and renewed our faith in what the Bulls can be.

But it appears men’s basketball just doesn’t have the horses. Jahmal McMurray coming back will of course help, but how much? Isaiah Manderson being added to the rotation after the end of the semester will help... but how much? Enough to get to 7-11ish in conference and establish some momentum for 2017-18? At best?

The Bulls got firebombed at home by Phoenix last night. Not the Suns, or Larry Fitzgerald’s student loan-thieving alma mater, but the Elon Phoenix. It wasn’t an upset because Elon was a 4.5 point favorite in the Sun Dome. And don’t think Elon is getting some buzz as a potential NCAA sleeper team either; they were picked to finish eighth in the CAA this season.

I only saw the first four minutes of the game before heading over to watch soccer (Carl is writing up that now), so I can’t speak to what happened on the court. I can only go by the stats. And the stats are bad.

USF had 19 turnovers on 72 possessions. .847 points per possession, with a lot of that coming in garbage time. Eight assists on 23 field goals. 11-19 from the free throw line. Ruben Guerrero fouled out after 24 minutes, zero points, six rebounds.

As for Elon, who was averaging 95 ppg coming in, they got 1.03 PPP. Their stats weren’t a ton better than USF, but they also had a 16-0 run to make it 27-14, and were never threatened again.

And possibly worst of all, the announced attendance was 2206, a number makes Ray Jay attendance padding look National-Review-levels of conservative. The T-shirt turret gun might have had more ammo than available fans.

USF men’s basketball has experienced a lot of nadirs in their history, and we might be reaching another one. Seth Greenberg’s first season and the Dog & Tree Game, the Chris Capko Starting Point Guard Era, and even Orlando Antigua’s first season were all pretty horrific. But there was an understanding that there was a plan, and the losing was part of rebuilding a program.

But losing your best recruit in Troy Baxter to UNLV at the last second, not getting Andres Feliz in school, having the specter of an ongoing NCAA investigation hanging over your head... it all adds up. No matter how good Tulio Da Silva projects (and he might be a very good one), there might be a short circuit in momentum. And momentum might not matter to a fan base that was moribund anyway, but it does in recruiting.

This is Year Three for Coach O, a guy that we very much thought was a fantastic hire by USF. And I personally still think he’ll turn out to be a good head basketball coach, though I understand there is no empirical evidence to back up this point to date.

I’d probably ride or die with him next year too, if only because you’re still paying Stan Heath $375,000 per year to be an assistant coach at Boston College until April 2018 anyway (thanks again, Doug!). Assuming the NCAA gives the Bulls the all-clear... who can you get to take this job, with the budget limitations that paying three head coaches at the same time would create, that could do better?

If Orlando Antigua isn’t here after this season, he’ll learn from what happened here and be a better coach at his next stop. USF’s unusually high academic standards for athletes, overall lack of fan support for basketball, and middling budget all make for unique challenges. So you could argue Antigua went one of two ways:

  1. He failed to assess strengths and weaknesses of the inherent traits of the program correctly, something a lot of first-time coaches don’t do. They just want to get the big job and bring what they’ve learned at all their other stops to a new place, thinking their charisma or recruiting connections will override the facts on the ground.
  2. Antigua went full game theory for a program with so many on-the-ground challenges, and keeps missing the flop holding two high cards. He’s taken big chances on kids (e.g. Roddy Peters, a 5-star recruit that washed out at Maryland), and none have panned out so far. A lot of those chances never even dressed for a game. And then Troy Holston blew out his ACL. As poker players say, “JBL.” Just Bad Luck.

But you’ve got to get lucky and hit once or twice as well. Da Silva could be Coach O’s first time connecting with the cards in the middle of the board, though he did get a nice piece of it with McMurray too. But will he have enough chips left to get back in the game?

To succeed at USF and change the culture of a program the way Jose Fernandez has, you probably need to take big chances. USF also showed Jose the patience necessary to make mistakes and try again. A college roommate of mine was one of his mistakes. She was just a bad fit from the jump, and isn’t a type of player he’d ever recruit now.

Fernandez has found great success in getting overseas players to fill roles, and surrounding them with outstanding American athletes. He found a system that works for him to build a culture of success. But Jose got the chance to learn on the job. Can you do that in the men’s game where the money involved makes the pressure to succeed even more high stakes?

I don’t know the answers here or the correct path forward. But I do know I’m hoping to be wrong about what projects as a bleak and beleaguered season. And I’m very much rooting for Coach O and his players to find a way to make this year at least interesting. Even when I’m making snarky jokes about them on Twitter because dark humor is a crutch well-understood by all USF basketball fans.

It’s just two games, but it doesn’t look good.