Basketball needing boost from facility upgrades
TAMPA -- The exterior walls go up this week on the basketball practice center being built just south of the Sun Dome, and by this time next year, a major renovation of the 30-year-old arena should be complete. Both will help USF's basketball teams, which are both struggling near the bottom of the Big East standings, combining for a 1-13 record in conference play entering Tuesday night's women's game against Seton Hall.
The one combined win puts the Bulls behind Seton Hall (2-12) and Providence (3-10), but it also puts USF at risk of setting a new low for combined men's and women's conference wins in basketball since the league went to its current lineup in 2005. In the last five seasons, no college has finished with less than eight total Big East wins between its two teams -- that's happened four times, including USF in 2007-08. Last year, the conference's balance was strong enough that all 16 programs had at least 10 league wins from their basketball teams.
Both Stan Heath and Jose Fernandez were given new contracts with significant raises after last season, and the excitement surrounding the new practice center and arena renovations brings with it the hope that such upgrades will help the Bulls in recruiting, which in turn should help on the scoreboard.
The investment has been made, and success, ideally, would help in the seats, where USF's home men's attendance has averaged just 3,307, a sharp 32 percent drop from last season's final average. There are still six Big East home games to be played -- after a must-win Thursday against lowly DePaul, four of the remaining home games are against ranked opponents, including No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 9 Syracuse and No. 15 Notre Dame, which will bring big crowds.
As it stands, USF's home attendance is the lowest of any team in the NCAA's biggest six conferences, and by more than 1,000 -- the next lowest is Mississippi State at 4,326, with only three other schools (Boston College, Miami, Rutgers) averaging less than 5,000 fans at home games.
WELL DONE: Scout.com's national site, Collegefootballnews.com, ranked the 22 first-year coaches from 2010, with USF's Skip Holtz rated second, behind only FSU's Jimbo Fisher. Of the other Big East rookies, Louisville's Charlie Strong was ranked third, while Cincinnati's Butch Jones came in last in their rankings.
THIS AND THAT: USF will have a national signing day gathering for fans next week, with Holtz will be at Stump's Supper Club in Channelside from 5:30-7 on Feb. 2. ... Five of USF's fastest football players -- receivers Sterling Griffin, Lindsey Lamar, Terrence Mitchell and Derrick Hopkins and cornerback Kayvon Webster -- are listed on USF's track roster for the spring. The indoor season opened last week, with Webster the only one competing, finishing sixth in the 60 meters in a meet in Minnesota. ... A strong week at the East-West Shrine Game has helped boost the draft stock of USF defensive tackle Terrell McClain, so far the only Bulls player invited to the NFL's combine workouts in Indianapolis.