Season in review: Taking a look at USF men’s basketball’s magical run

Senior guard Chris Youngblood (pictured) drives to the basket in USF’s second-round loss to Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The Bulls (25-8, 16-2 AAC) finished the year with a 70-65 loss to Virginia Commonwealth at home in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). 

Related: USF men’s basketball season ends in NIT second-round loss to VCU

Regardless of the loss, the 2023-24 season for South Florida basketball will be remembered as a success.

Head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim led a middling USF team that struggled to reach double-digit wins to a regular-season American Athletic Conference crown in his first year at the helm.

The Bulls were picked to finish ninth in the AAC in the preseason, but stampeded through the league and won 16 of their 18 conference games.

Abdur-Rahim was honored as the conference’s coach of the year on March 12 for his role in the team’s impressive turnaround.

And for the first time since 2012, the Bulls reached a postseason tournament, just not the tournament that they were hoping for.

Related: USF men’s basketball to play in the NIT after missing March Madness

“I’m really proud of this group, a group that nobody gave a chance to start the season,” Abdur-Rahim said Sunday following the Bulls’ loss to VCU. “I’m so thankful and grateful that I was able to coach this group and make memories with them.”

Here’s a look at some of the highlights for the Bulls during this historic season:

Season MVP – Chris Youngblood

Senior guard Chris Youngblood was far and away the most valuable player for this Bulls team. 

Youngblood led the team in scoring, contributing 15.3 points per game along with just over 2 rebounds and assists every night. 

 The AAC’s co-player of the year scored 20 or more points eight times and failed to reach double digits just six times.

He made big shots all year but was highly consistent, shooting 45.8% from the field and 41.6% from three.

The senior looked back on his season with pride following the loss to the Rams on Sunday.

“One thing that stuck out to me the most, I had the most fun this year,” Youngblood said. “It wasn’t even about the basketball… that was fun, the winning is fun of course, but the relationships I built throughout these past eight or nine months I’ve been here, that was the most important part.”

Youngblood has one year of eligibility remaining and could come back for another year with the Bulls.

Game of the Year – USF beats No. 10 Memphis 74-73, Jan. 18

This is the game that seemed to announce the arrival of USF to the AAC and the rest of Division One basketball.

The Bulls traveled to FedEx Forum in mid-January to take on a top 10 team that was on a 10-game win streak.

They entered the game as a 9.5-underdog and looked like it early, entering halftime down 47-32 and trailing by 20 a minute after the break.

Related: USF men’s basketball stun No. 10 Memphis in thrilling comeback

ESPN analytics gave the Tigers a 99.1% chance of winning at that point, but the Bulls, behind a strong defense and lights out shooting in the second half, stormed back into the game.

After tying the contest at 73, junior forward Kasean Pryor made a free throw with just four seconds on the clock to give USF a one-point win.

The Bulls went on to register 13 wins in a row and dominate the AAC en route to a regular season title, but this game proved that they could compete with the best teams in the country on any given night.

Looking ahead

The Bulls found success in the 2023-24 season, but the question is whether or not they can maintain it.

USF will have to fill important holes in the roster with senior guard Jose Placer graduating, and fellow seniors Brandon Stroud and Selton Miguel potentially leaving as well.

They will look to retain key pieces like Youngblood, Pryor and freshman guard Jayden Reid in the offseason for a chance to return to the top of the conference next season.

An appearance in the NCAA tournament could be on the cards after narrowly missing out this year if the Bulls can carry their momentum into the 2024-25 season.

“The one thing you can count on is we’re going to put a team out on that floor that’s competitive, that’s prepared to win and that’s going to be about South Florida… they’re going to be about what’s on the front of their jersey,” Abdur-Rahim said.