USF men, women are most improved in Power 6
TAMPA -- As both USF basketball teams sort out their postseason future, even in a year in which the Bulls men and women were displaced from their home arena during Sun Dome renovations, Stan Heath and Jose Fernandez have improbably combined for the best improvement of any teams in college basketball's major conferences.
USF's men are 11-5 after going 3-15 last year; USF women finished 8-8 after going 3-13 a year ago. So in terms of combined conference wins, men and women, USF has 13 more than it finished last year with, easily the greatest improvement of any program in the "Power 6" conferences. The closest any school from a major conference gets is California, plus-9 entering Tuesday's games, and in all of Division I basketball, out of 344 schools, only Davidson -- a combined plus-15 -- has seen greater improvement.
The lack of a home arena isn't the only adversity the Bulls have overcome -- USF's women's team made its improvements despite top scorer Andrea Smith missing the entire season recovering from knee surgery. And the men's team's surge into Big East relevance has a historical significance to it, already counting as the best single-season improvement in the conference in more than a decade.
Only two men's teams in Big East history have made a bigger jump than Heath's team, which has eight more conference wins and still has two games left, tonight at Louisville and Saturday at home against West Virginia. Boston College went from worst to first in 2001, an improvement of 10 conference wins, and Miami went from 0-18 to 9-9 in 1995. Those are the only teams with greater leaps in the standings than USF this season.
Barring a Big East championship, USF's women are likely headed to the Women's NIT, a solid showing given the injuries Fernandez has faced. But there's a greater challenge for Heath's team, which likely needs one more win -- perhaps more -- to solidify an NCAA Tournament resume and get the Bulls back in that field for the first time in 20 years. That, more than any statistical honor, will cement this team's place in USF history.
GETTING HEALTHY: Former Bulls running back Darrell Scott, who left after his junior year to enter the NFL Draft, ran a disappointing 4.73 at the NFL combine this week, but said Monday that he did so while limited by a quad injury, one he hopes to have recovered from when USF holds its Pro Day for scouts on March 20. Scott, who weighed in at 230 pounds, wants a time closer to 4.5 seconds and believes he can do it in Tampa. "I know I can do way better than what I did," Scott said.
THIS AND THAT: After a 3-0 start, USF baseball stumbled to a combined three losses against North Florida and Bethune-Cookman going into Tuesday's game at Central Florida. The Bulls' pitching has come through as Lelo Prado had hoped, but the hitting and defense aren't there yet. The Bulls were hitting .223 as a team entering Tuesday, and the Bulls had 10 errors, including five by shortstop Chad Taylor, who shifted in from the outfield. ... Pinellas Park's Sara Nevins was named Big East Pitcher of the Week after the sophomore went 2-0 last week, with a win, save, and 23 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched. USF softball is 10-1 entering today's home game against No. 12 Michigan. ... USF baseball gets a spring training exhibition Friday at 1:05 against the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.