Bulls can finish strong in unusually weak Big East

The Big East is one of the most prestigious college basketballconferences in the country.Along with the Atlantic CoastConference, the Big East isconsistently known to bethe highest level of Division Icollege basketball. Fortunately for coach Stan Heath and the Bulls, 2012 is not one of those years.

One of the biggestdisappointments this season hasbeen 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 rankedNo. 18 a year ago with a21-11 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. Ateam that went 27-5 last season, earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, is dead last in theBig East at 1-7 in conference play.

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

The Bulls are 5-3 in the Big East, tying for fifth in the 16-teamleague. Of the 11 teams thatare beneath them in the Big East standings, the Bulls haveplayed eight and have a 5-3 record against thoseeight 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’sremaining games are againstSyracuse, 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 wontwo 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 a17-11 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 orthree teams that would lose more than two games the remainder of the season, and the Bulls couldend up in sixth place at the endof 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 reachtheir ultimate goal.

USF’s next game is againstProvidence, 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.