A season ago, out-of-conference road losses nearly doomed the USF mens basketball teams NCAA Tournament hopes despite a strong conference campaign. The Bulls will look to reverse their fortunes early on in this season beginning tonight against Stetson in Deland.
The Bulls (3-2) finished their out-of-conference schedule without a single road victory last season, going 0-6 and losing winnable games against teams like Auburn, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and Southern Miss., losses that nearly came back to haunt the Bulls on Selection Sunday.
After playing four games in five days and going 3-1 in the process USF is already on track for a better nonconference record than a season ago, when it won seven total nonconference games.
For the Bulls to improve from a season ago, road victories will be required, though the team does not have many chances to gain them in nonconference play. Following tonights game against Stetson at 7, USF only has two more road nonconference games, against Oklahoma State and UCF, both of which would be resume-building victories.
Two key contributors for USF to have a successful finish to its nonconference schedule will be sophomore guard Anthony Collins and senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
Collins has bounced back from a slow start to the 2012 season largely because of a concussion and a knee injury that limited his minutes early on and has back-to-back games with double-digit assists: 12 against Western Michigan and 10 against Bradley. The 12 assists were the most by a USF player since Chris Capko in 2005, and the eighth most in school history.
Fitzpatrick has begun the season strongly, scoring consistently from both the paint and the three-point line while defending opposition threats in the post.
The senior led the team with 16 points and four three-pointers in the win over Bradley last Tuesday, and is the only Bull averaging double figures in scoring at 11.6 points per game. He also is second on the team with 6.2 rebounds a game and leads USF with a 41.7 shooting percentage from three-point range.
With home games against Georgia, Youngstown State, Bowling Green and George Mason remaining on the nonconference schedule, avoiding nonconference road losses beginning tonight will be essential for the teams NCAA Tournament hopes.