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Tampa is improving as a college basketball market, sort of

By Joey Knight
USF coach Brian Gregory will try to lead his team to its first three-game win streak in conference play in six years when the Bulls face Memphis in Thursday's American Athletic Conference tournament in Orlando. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)

If the last five days are any indication, USF men's basketball is well on its way to shedding its doormat status.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Bulls' hometown also is trending upward on the figurative March Madness meter.

A year after being ranked the nation's second-worst city for basketball fans by WalletHub, Tampa no longer ranks in the bottom 10 for college basketball cities.

The 2018 WalletHub study ranked Tampa 271st — out of 290 — in its list of the top U.S. cities for NCAA hoops.

Our waterside metropolis ranked ahead of Jackson, Miss.; Colorado Springs; Lynchburg, Va.; and Hackensack, N.J., among others.

Chapel Hill was rated the top city for NCAA basketball.

Related: Study: Tampa second-worst city for basketball fans

The study, which can be seen here, focused only on men's college hoops. The metrics used included number of teams per city (and winning percentage of each), stadium capacity and social media engagement.

While the USF men averaged only 2,569 for home games (second-worst in the American Athletic Conference), they've reached 10 wins for the first time since 2014, and seek their third consecutive win in Thursday's AAC tournament opener against Memphis in Orlando.

A victory would give USF its first three-game win streak in conference play since 2012, when it qualified for the NCAA Tournament. The city's other NCAA team, Division II University of Tampa, finished 10-16 and averaged 175 fans per home game.