0-for-AAC awaits if Bulls don't answer Antigua's challenge
They're not nearing a precedent for program futility … at this point.
They're still not deep enough to see rock bottom … yet.
Historic mediocrity remains pretty far off … for now.
Two full months remain in a USF men's basketball season that has gone awry pretty much from the opening tip. Conceivably, the Bulls (3-15, 0-5 American Athletic Conference) could become more proficient offensively, somewhat stingier defensively and a bit healthier physically in their next 14 contests.
Stranger things have occurred.
"I think there's a lot of hope (for USF)," Tulane coach Ed Conroy said following the Green Wave's 81-70 triumph Tuesday night at the Sun Dome. "I think there's a lot of hope even still this year."
But suppose things don't turn around, and the glaring regression the Bulls showed in Tuesday's loss — to a team previously 0-4 in league play — continues. Then USF would be flirting with history, of the most embarrassing variety.
Only 10 Division I programs have gone winless in conference play in the previous five years, and only one of those (TCU, Big 12) hailed from a major conference (and for the sake of men's hoops, we're considering the AAC as major).
Similarly, USF will need a noticeable resurgence to avoid tying — or eclipsing — the program record for fewest wins (six) shared by the 1979-80 and '87-88 teams.
On Tuesday, they found themselves with seven available scholarship players as PF Luis Santos (concussion protocol) joined SG Troy Holston Jr. (knee) and PG Roddy Peters (foot) on the shelf. Yet Coach Orlando Antigua indicated that was no excuse for the Bulls getting slaughtered (19-10) on the offensive glass.
Two days earlier, in a 54-51 loss to Cincinnati, the Bulls were out-rebounded 14-4 on the offensive boards but held the Bearcats to a miserable effort (30.9 percent) from the floor.
"And let me just say this: It's not just the big guys on the rebounding. That's on all of us," Antigua said. "Rebounding has no name. That's a matter of will and going to get it. You can't have a big lineup out there, with guys 6-5 and 6-6, and they can't go in there and get rebounds?"
If the Bulls respond to Antigua, who openly challenged their toughness in Tuesday's postgame press conference, there's evidence they could piece enough offense together for a mini surge in the coming days.
USF shot 50 percent from the floor (26-for-52) on Tuesday, hitting five of nine 3-pointers, and has shot 47 percent or better in each of its last three contests. With a defensive pulse on the other end, that may be good enough to upset Memphis (10-5, 1-1) on the road Saturday, or win the rematch against UCF (8-6, 2-1) on Jan. 20.
"We didn't have answers to stop them and it's not just one guy," Conroy said. "You can look down at the numbers: 7 of 12 (Jahmal McMurray), 7 of 11 (Nehemias Morillo), 5 of 11 (Chris Perry). I mean, they have some guys and they're putting 'em in the right spots. Their offensive numbers are gonna improve as the year goes on."
But only if their fortitude improves, Antigua suggested. Otherwise, rock bottom will grow more visible with each day.
"I thought we did some good things in the first half, but some of it they've got to own," Antigua said. "They've got to own it. We're owning a lot, the staff. We've got to take some responsibility for that as well, and we are. So they also have to own some of that."