Heath: Doubters persist for NCAA's 'unsexy girl'
TAMPA -- By winning six of its last seven games, USF has convinced many basketball experts that the Bulls belong in the NCAA Tournament, but heading into the regular-season finale at home Saturday against West Virginia, the Bulls are also motivated by their lingering doubters as well.
"I still think every now and then it's like noone wants us to get in. It's like we're the unsexy girl out there that nobody likes," Heath said. "We've got to keep kicking the door, because you just don't know. You don't want to leave anything to chance."
USF (19-11, 12-5 in Big East) already has the reassurance that no team in Big East history has won 12 conference games and missed the NCAA cut, but a 13th win, against another bubble team in West Virginia, could remove more doubt, and also take the Bulls out of a possible play-in round in Dayton just to get to the round of 64.
Heath said Wednesday's win at No. 19 Louisville won over a lot of critics -- at the midway point of the Big East season, he himself had said it would take 12 Big East wins for him to know his team should be in. The Bulls have reached that goal, but he said the natural volatility of the bubble makes him focused on what he can control, which is winning his next game.
"In these situations right now, every 24 hours, things change," Heath said. "You just have to keep winning, keep your nose to the ground, keep plugging away. It's nice to hear that maybe we're getting a little bit more (endorsements), but things change if you don't take care of business."
BIG CROWD: USF is working to make Saturday's game at Tampa Bay Times Forum an impressive turnout for the home finale, advertising $10 tickets and offering free "MADNESS" T-shirts with all seats in the arena's lower bowl. The Bulls drew a season-high crowd announced as 6,784 for Sunday's win against Cincinnati and could have significantly more than that against West Virginia, which typically brings plenty of its fans as well.
AWAKE ON THE BUBBLE: At Thursday's afternoon practice, Heath had not yet slept since the Louisville game, as the Bulls were held up several hours due to mechanical issues for their flight home and didn't arrive on campus until about 4:15 a.m. Then Heath had a quick turnaround, driving to Lakeland for a morning tipoff as his younger son Josh, a junior at Tampa Prep, played for a state championship in Lakeland. Tampa Prep won with Heath in attendance, wrapping up a wild 24 hours for him.
"It's been an extreme high, a whirlwind," Heath said. "We've got to put our attention on West Virginia. It's a big game with a lot of meaning to it. It's Senior Day, so there's a lot of things going on. We really have to turn things back to what we need to be doing in front of us."