Since South Florida’s basketball season ended with a first-round loss to Ball State in the Nobody’s Interested Tournament, I’ve been posed the question ‘What was wrong with the Bulls?’ more times than there were empty seats in the Sun Dome on any given night this season.
But even though they’re asking me, it’s more of a rhetorical question because everyone – and I mean everyone – seems to have his or her own set of opinions regarding the Bulls.
The laundry list of theories? B.B. Waldon didn’t improve much after his sophomore season. Altron Jackson never grew into the team leader role and had a tendency to get shut down in big-time games against big-time defenders. The 1-3-1 trap was susceptible to conference teams who had seen it numerous times. Coach Seth Greenberg never seemed to gain control of the team and failed to get the most out of his players. The Bulls again faded down the stretch.
While these are all plausible explanations as to why USF failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the tenth straight season, I have my own reason – one that hasn’t been explored.
You know what was wrong with the Bulls this season? Nothing.
Face it USF fans, you were duped. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Blinded by unfulfilled – and overblown – expectations.
And USF fans are the ones with egg on their face, angry with a team they perceived as underachievers.
Don’t feel bad, it was pretty easy to assume this team was NCAA-bound. They had a pair of perennial all-conference selections (Waldon and Jackson), an emerging force in the middle (Will McDonald) and a challenging enough schedule to keep their RPI in good shape.
But a closer examination reveals this team – particularly this season – simply wasn’t that good. USF was a fundamentally unsound team.
The Bulls fumbled too many passes, missed too many free throws and were caught out of position on defense way too many times. They didn’t have a consistent penetrator and their half-court offense was at times painful to watch. It didn’t help the Bulls’ cause that Reggie Kohn (stress fracture in his leg) and Waldon (swollen knees, broken cheekbone, shoulder strain, broken finger) were held together with Scotch tape by the end of the season. Overall, the Bulls were consistently inconsistent.
But USF managed to finish 19-13, the most wins during Greenberg’s tenure. The Bulls beat two NCAA Tournament teams (California and Pittsburgh) and completed their fifth consecutive non-losing season.
Are the Bulls the next Duke? No, but they’re a far cry from Gardner Webb. Don’t forget this program is just five years removed from eight victories (1995) in a season. From 1992-97, USF’s overall record was 46-83.
I talked to a slew of USF faithful throughout the season and the underlying vibe I got was a disdain for the team because the Bulls weren’t living up to the fans’ expectations. They vowed to quit watching and putting their hearts into rooting for a team that “lets them down.”
Sometimes it was outright wrath.
Toward the end of the season, I saw a kid berate Waldon, verbally attacking him on the way to class. The student’s expletive-filled tirade was obviously a way to express his anger toward the team for not being in the Top 25, making the NCAAs, etc.
But who’s really at fault here – a guy who helped resurrect this program from an 8-19 season the year before he stepped on to campus, or the so-called fan for assuming Waldon and the Bulls should have done more?
And we all know what they say about assuming.
Brandon Wright covers men’s basketball and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org