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Bulls can finish strong in unusually weak Big East

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012

Updated: Thursday, January 26, 2012 02:01


The Big East is one of the most prestigious college basketball conferences in the country. Along with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East is consistently known to be the highest level of Division I college basketball. Fortunately for coach Stan Heath and the Bulls, 2012 is not one of those years.

One of the biggest disappointments this season has been the performance of the Big East's most well-known teams.

Last year's National Champion, Connecticut, fell apart after a quick start to the season and now sits at eighth place in the Big East, with a 14-5 record.  They had nine losses all of last season.

St. John's, a team that entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 18 a year ago with a 21-11 record sits at 13th place in the conference, with 11 losses on its schedule already.

But the biggest disappointment in the Big East, and potentially the entire country, is Pittsburgh. A team that went 27-5 last season, earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, is dead last in the Big East at 1-7 in conference play.

For the Bulls, such disappointments mean that they have a shot to finish in the top half of the Big East conference in a year in which the conference is extremely top heavy.

The Bulls are 5-3 in the Big East, tying for fifth in the 16-team league. Of the 11 teams that are beneath them in the Big East standings, the Bulls have played eight and have a 5-3 record against those eight teams. They still play four more: Providence and Pittsburgh, who have a combined 2-14 record in Big East play, twice each, along with a rematch with Villanova, which USF beat in Pennsylvania, and a road game against Louisville.

Along with those two, USF's remaining games are against Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, West Virginia and Georgetown — all teams with better records than the Bulls. Three of these games — against Louisville, Syracuse and Georgetown — will be on the road, where the Bulls have only won two games all season.

If the Bulls win the four games against the teams lower than them in the standings and manage to win two of the five games they have against teams higher than them, they would be looking at a 17-11 regular season record, along with a 10-5 record in the Big East.

That record, given the teams  they would have beaten, would guarantee the Bulls at least ninth place in the Big East. Add in two or three teams that would lose more than two games the remainder of the season, and the Bulls could end up in sixth place at the end of the regular season.

If USF can take advantage of a watered-down Big East, it could be looking at one of its best Big East finishes in school history. And with conference success could come national recognition, which would set the Bulls up to reach their ultimate goal.

USF's next game is against Providence, which is tied for last in the Big East. The game will tip off at 2 p.m. at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Sunday.

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