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Despite record, USF still has work to do

Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 00:04

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

ORACLE PHOTO/BOBBY BISHOP

Slow-throwing lefty Matt Reed could get the start against Bethune-Cookman tonight in Daytona. He’s 3-3 with a 2.29 ERA this season.

With a rough patch near the beginning of the season behind them, the USF Bulls are off to a red-hot start in Big East play. The team is sitting in first place in the Big East and is three wins away from their conference total last season.

While the Bulls have shown the focus and execution needed to win in conference play, their 10-2 conference record is juxtaposed by their 15-10 record outside of the Big East, with most of those losses coming at home. The Bulls have losses to North Florida, Bethune-Cookman, Eastern Illinois, Stetson and Lafayette on their resume.

Though the Bulls’ losses outside of Big East play haven’t yet hurt their postseason hopes, the mid-week losses to non-conference opponents could hold deeper meaning.

In their 12 conference games, the Bulls have played three games each against Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. Of those teams, Notre Dame is the only one that has a .500 record in Big East play, at 6-6. All four teams are in the bottom half in the conference standings, including Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, who hold two of the bottom three spots. USF has a combined record of 5-1 against those two teams.

It can be said that the Bulls have taken advantage of a relatively easy Big East schedule to begin the season, boosting their record despite the poor showing outside of

the league. But given that the Bulls have struggled against non-Big East opponents all season, USF’s stellar conference start could simply be a mirage.

The Bulls’ success in the Big East will be tested in the coming weeks, as the team will face the top tier teams of the conference before the season wraps up. In their final 18 regular season games the Bulls will play three games each against Louisville, St. John’s and Connecticut, the teams that sit directly beneath the Bulls in the standings.

The Bulls have some breathing room in hopes of qualifying for the Big East tournament after missing out last season. USF leads the conference and can slip all the way to eighth place and still earn a berth in the tournament in Clearwater.

“I’m proud of our guys, but I don’t want them to get satisfied because the next three weeks we play some great teams,” coach Lelo Prado said. “We better pitch better, we better hit the ball better and we better play better defense.”

USF will get an opportunity to improve its out-of-conference schedule tonight in a rematch with Bethune-Cookman in Daytona. The Wildcats came to Tampa for a three-game series at the end of February and won the final two games. The game will mark the end of USF’s season-long eight-game road trip, followed by a weekend home series against Louisville.

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