On Jan. 10, 2018, USF men’s basketball was 7-10 and 0-4 in the AAC. The Bulls were coming off an ugly 95-57 loss at Wichita State over the weekend and preparing for what would be another blowout loss the following weekend at home against Cincinnati.
“It’s been a tough stretch with who we’ve played, where we’ve played, how well the team has played,” coach Brian Gregory said one year ago. “Our guys understand the big picture. They understand where we’re at and why they came here.”
What a difference a year makes.
On Jan. 10, 2019, USF is 12-3 and 2-1 in the AAC. The Bulls’ 10 wins at the end of 2018-19 non-conference play matched their cumulative win total from 2017-18 — achieving the feat in 18 fewer games. USF’s first conference win this season — a 76-68 thriller over UConn on Jan. 2 at the Yuengling Center — came in its first AAC game instead of game No. 8 in 2017-18.
Positive results are nice, especially after years of negative results. But what’s even more encouraging is something that’s a tad harder to quantify with numbers.
There is a buzz around this program for the first time in years.
Anyone who was at the Yuengling Center for the UConn game certainly felt that buzz. There was something stirring in the arena that wasn’t even there for the Dec. 29 game against Fairleigh Dickinson. It almost felt like a coming out party for a team that many had heard a lot about, but not actually seen in person yet.
There was just something oddly satisfying hearing USF fans singing “Nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye” as UConn fans — who were quite loud during the first half, only to be silenced by a 51-point second half by USF — left the building.
True, this was not the UConn team that won the 2014 national championship, and the Huskies may have been in for a rough season with or without a loss to USF on their resume — but it was still a milestone win for a USF program that’s being rebuilt from the ground up.
What’s perhaps even more exciting and buzz-worthy is this is likely just the beginning of a new era for USF men’s basketball. This season is, after all, what Gregory called year “negative one” in the process of rebuilding the program.
“When you step back, you still look at the future of where we could get to and how big the buzz could be,” Gregory said. “We’re going to get there. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re doing it along the right process, along the right patch — because what you want to make sure you do is it’s built on solid rock and not sand.”
This team is young — there are only five upperclassmen on the Bulls’ roster this season — so there’s no reason to think that USF won’t be able to continue building on the success with largely the same team next season, as well.
Who knows how this season will end. There are still 15 AAC games left to play, and a lot can happen between now and the end of the season.
An NIT bid would be monumental for where this program was before Gregory took over less than two years ago. An invitation to the third-tier College Basketball Invitational would be cause for celebration, even.
But for now, let’s just enjoy the ride of a team that has finally given its fans something to cheer about. Fans are happy, players are happy and Gregory, when asked if he was happy, was all smiles.
“I’m a happy guy. I’m a positive guy, a happy guy,” Gregory joked. “I’ve got to fight it every day.”
What a difference a year makes.