Notes: Can USF close on three top Miami-area recruits?
TAMPA -- In two months, new USF coach Willie Taggart has worked hard to put together a solid first recruiting class, and as the Bulls get official signatures on Wednesday, three top-tier Miami-area recruits could take the Bulls' class to another level of success.
The Bulls are among the final options for three standouts -- Miami Southridge defensive back Lamar Robbins, Miami Booker T. Washington offensive lineman Denver Kirkland and Oakland Park Northeast receiver Stacy Coley. Robbins had committed to USF last week, but he's getting a strong push from Louisville, which has also had great success recruiting the Miami area.
All three are ranked in the top 50 in the state by the top recruiting sites -- getting any of the three would be a success for Taggart and his staff, and getting more than one would turn many heads and likely give the Bulls the highest-rated recruiting class in the Big East's lineup this fall.
Some of the Bulls' biggest recruiting wins in recent years have come in Miami, including cornerback Kayvon Webster in '09 and defensive tackle Elkino Watson in 2011. The only assistant that Taggart kept from Skip Holtz's staff was former Bulls lineman Larry Scott, who has led USF's recruiting efforts in Miami, going back even to Jim Leavitt's tenure.
USF's toughest competition on Coley and Kirkland looks to be Miami and FSU -- a head-to-head win on signing day against either would be hailed as a major victory in Taggart's first class. The Bulls are waiting to hear on two more local prospects -- Jesuit tight end Travis Johnson and Lakewood receiver Marquez Valdes -- and will try to keep both from leaving to play college football outside the state of Florida.
SECOND HALF: USF men's basketball opens the second half of the Big East season on Wednesday night against No. 24 Marquette, this after a disappointing 1-8 record in the opening nine conference games. The biggest thing Stan Heath is hoping to see an improvement in during these final nine games?
"I'd like to see us be tougher," Heath said. "I think that's one of the biggest reasons we let down at the start of the second half. We come out with a casual, cool attitude. We have to change that attitude. We have to have more of a feisty attitude, especially in the second half."
USF (10-11) has shown an ability to play with top-tier Big East teams, but hasn't been able to close out victories, a frustrating trait after the Bulls were consistently successful in close games during last year's run to the NCAA Tournament.
"What's disappointing to me is I've got veteran guys ... who were in those same battles last year and won those games at a high rate," he said. "They've been there, done that. I don't think they've passed the baton to some of those younger guys about what it really takes to get the job done for 40 minutes."
THIS AND THAT: If USF's women's basketball (RPI 62) wants to continue hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament, the Bulls (15-6, 4-4) need to win their next three games, with the lowest-RPI opponents of the eight games remaining in the regular season. Four of their final five games should be against other Big East bubble teams, the other being ... Connecticut in the Sun Dome. ... Baseball coach Lelo Prado is optimistic about his team after an early scrimmage Sunday. The Bulls will be counting on a few freshman pitchers -- Jefferson's Jimmy Herget could have a key bullpen role, while 6-foot-5 right-hander Justin Patrick of Rhode Island has a shot at the No. 3 starting job. ... USF softball, seeking a return to the College World Series, opens its season Friday in Clearwater, facing Marshall at 2:30. With four games in the opening weekend, expect to see a glimpse of the Bulls' pitching depth, with four solid arms for Ken Eriksen to utilize.