Bulls face Stony Brook in first postseason appearance in seven years

For the first time in seven years, USF men’s basketball is going to the postseason.

After a regular season where USF won 19 games, which tied for fifth-most in program history, the Bulls (19-13, 8-10 AAC) will host Stony Brook (24-8, 12-4 America East) in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Yuengling Center. The game will be streamed on GoUSFBulls.com and Bulls Unlimited.

The CBI, first played in 2008, is a single-elimination tournament until the championship round, when it becomes a best-of-three, played exclusively in home arenas of teams participating in the tournament.

USF has not participated in a postseason tournament since 2012, when it made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament under former coach Stan Heath.

“We’re really excited in terms of the opportunity given the invitation to play in the CBI,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Our guys are fired up about it, as we are as a program … it’s been a tournament that you look through the past few years from teams that have started to make a name for themselves like Loyola [Chicago], Nevada. Teams that were younger and wanted to continue to play and get better like Purdue and Pittsburgh and Texas and VCU.

“You look at the success that some of those teams have had in the four or five years following playing in this tournament, if we can copy that, it would be fantastic.”

While participation in the tournament requires a large financial commitment from participating universities — the right to host a first-round game was reportedly $50,000 in 2015, according to insidenu.com — Gregory and USF view this as a worthy investment in the rebuilding of the program.

“A lot of credit goes to our athletic director. Michael Kelly and his staff have done a great job of putting us in a position to be able to host this event,” Gregory said. “And it speaks volumes for, as I always say, for us to get to where we want to get to, everybody has to be on board moving in the same direction with the same vision. And this is clear evidence that the people around our program have the same vision that we do.”

From a basketball perspective, it’s also an opportunity for the Bulls to see a new opponent after 19 conference games where everybody knows everybody else.

“It’s always nice to play a new face,” sophomore guard David Collins said. “They don’t really know much about us. We don’t know much about them. So we’ve just got to go out there and compete.”

The Seawolves finished second in the regular season in America East before being upset in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament by Binghamton. Junior guard Akwasi Yeboah, who was selected first-team all conference, led Stony Brook in scoring with 16.6 points per game and rebounding with 7.8 per game.

Stony Brook also features America East’s Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore center Jeff Otchere. Otchere led the conference in blocks per game with 2.3 and recorded a seven-block game on Jan. 9 against Binghamton.

“We’re going to have to do a good job of keeping the ball in front of us,” Gregory said. “Our transition defense is going to have to be better than it has been the last two games. I think with [Laquincy Rideau] feeling a little better and with David [Collins] finally 100 percent now, I think that will help us be able to play defense, especially in the full court, like we have been throughout the year, but haven’t been able the last month.”

The winner of USF vs. Stony Brook advances to the CBI quarterfinals and will play the winner of Utah Valley vs. Cal State Northridge on March 25, with the host team to be determined.

No matter what the result of USF’s first CBI appearance winds up being, it’s still a milestone for the program.

“That was one of our goals — play in the postseason,” Collins said. “That’s just another goal that we get to check off the list.”