Big (East) Brother

Wait a minute, wait a minute. What ever happened to Conference USA? Didn’t USF just get in?

Well, that was two years ago, and back then that was the biggest thing since getting a football team. So what happened?

USF is now ready to jump ship. The Bulls see their big brothers, teams like Louisville and Cincinnati, taking off to where they think they belong: the Big East.

So here the Bulls are, hanging around C-USA like the kid brother wanting to play ball with the older boys.

The question is: Is the men’s basketball team ready?

“Every year we’re trying to prove something,” coach Robert McCullum said. “We’re trying to play as well as we can.”

After going 7-20 last season, their record through 13 games is already 8-5. It’s a vast improvement from a team that won only one — count it, one — conference game last year.

“Every game we play will be a competitive game,” McCullum said. “We’re a totally different team than last year. More experience. More depth. Better players. Better chemistry. We already surpassed last year’s win total. There is no comparison to last year’s team.”

McCullum makes a good point. Hold on, Bulls. Before you head out with the big boys, consider this.

On Jan. 5, USF came back from a 10-point deficit to beat ECU. On Saturday, the team came back from another 11 points at halftime to nearly hand UAB a loss. The Blazers last year found themselves in the Sweet Sixteen of March Madness.

In four days, the Bulls have been part of two nail-biting games where the free throw hasn’t carried so much weight since leaving Shaq’s hand, and both were in C-USA.

Now, 72 hours later, it’s forgotten and unloved. Thrown away like a ticket stub from the USF Homecoming game.

The Bulls, with two months to go, seem more determined about C-USA games than what awaits them, because USF is off to its most inspired start since, well, ever.

So does anyone want to remember C-USA?

There are still a lone few who aren’t ready to shed C-USA’s skin. McCullum has breathed life into this team and even into the stands. People want this basketball team to do well; they want them to succeed.

“The next game is always the most important game,” McCullum said. “Because the future is now. Everything that we do now is going to greatly enhance our future in the Big East. We need to improve and become the best team we can.”

And why shouldn’t they? They deserve to as much as Louisville, Cincinnati or St. John’s.

When the Bulls finally get to the Big East, when all the other teams stick them in right field where the little sibling belongs, it’ll be a different story.

The kid brother will be ready.