Before Wednesday’s loss at Houston, USF men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum said it was important his team comes away with a split in their next two games.
The Bulls will need a win versus ECU on Saturday to pick up the split.
The Bulls (10-13, 3-9 C-USA) opened up their Conference USA schedule with a win against ECU (8-16, 3-9 C-USA) on Jan.5 and more than likely will need another if they are to make the C-USA tournament, which starts March 9 in Memphis.
USF and ECU are tied for 12th place and only the conference’s top 12 teams are invited to the tournament.
As the season winds down, three teams — USF, Tulane and ECU — will fight it out for the tournament’s last two spots.
“If we are going to play with more consistency,” McCullum said, “we better start doing that in the next week or so.”
After Saturday’s game, USF plays two consecutive road games at TCU and at third-place DePaul.
USF then finishes its regular season at home versus No. 23 Charlotte, one of four teams — along with Louisville, Cincinnati, and DePaul — having already clinched a berth in the tournament.
What makes Saturday’s game even more important is ECU’s remaining schedule. After Saturday, two of ECU’s last three games are against last-place Southern Miss and Tulane, which has a 3-8 league record.
Tulane hosts Charlotte on Saturday, and barring an upset, will be tied at 3-10 with the loser of the USF versus ECU contest.
Following Saturday’s game, Tulane has TCU, UAB, Cincinnati and ECU remaining on its schedule.
USF could still get a berth even with a loss against ECU on Saturday, but will need Tulane and ECU to lose more in their final games.
And because ECU’s softens down the stretch, Saturday’s game could be season-ending for the Bulls if they lose.
If Tulane, which, like USF, has a tough remaining schedule, should end up tied with the Bulls, USF holds a tiebreaker (they beat Tulane on Feb. 5) and would advance.
Losers of three straight, USF is coming off a 68-50 loss at Houston on Wednesday while ECU will come in fresh off its upset at UAB, a team USF has lost to twice this season.