Bulls difficult schedule peaks tonight in Pittsburgh

Through 13 games in the nation’s strongest conference, USF has shown great potential, but has struggled from immaturity.

Though they boast a less-than-impressive 2-11 record in the Big East, the Bulls have the country’s 16th-toughest schedule, which reaches its apex tonight at No. 4 Pittsburgh.

USF (8-18) has lost four straight games, and the team has not won on the road or against a ranked opponent all season. Yet, its record shouldn’t count out the ailing Bulls for a win. On New Year’s Eve, USF took then-No. 4 Connecticut to overtime on the road before falling 66-61.

Likewise, 15 of the Bulls’ 18 losses this season have been by 10 points or less. The points that make up these narrow defeats have mostly come from turnovers and various mental mistakes of a still-gelling team.

As the Connecticut game proved, if this inexperienced USF team exhibits the necessary discipline and focus for 40 minutes, it can keep pace with the best in a highly competitive conference, which features seven of the NCAA’s top 20 teams.

Pittsburgh, the highest-ranked team in the Big East, is having its best season in school history. The Panthers have lost just one conference game and only two games overall.

They are riding the momentum of a huge road win at Villanova that snapped a 46-game winning streak at the Pavillion, the Wildcats’ cozy on-campus arena. As impressive as these accolades are, none of them should matter.

USF coach Stan Heath and guard Shaun Noriega said after Saturday’s brutal loss to Notre Dame that the team was simply not ready to play.

“Two things happen in this league when you’re not ready,” Heath said. “You get beat, and you get beat really bad.”

In preparation for Pittsburgh, the Bulls need to put their problems behind them. No upset has ever taken place when the underdogs started out sluggish and hanging their heads in disappointment.

If anything, they need to adopt the mentality of their mascot. They need to keep their eyes posed ahead, knowing that wins, losses, rankings, cheers, boos, stats – none of them matter.

The Bulls need to lead with their horns.