TAMPA — By winning six of its past 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 lingering doubters.
"I still think every now and then it's like no one wants us to get in. It's like we're the unsexy girl out there that nobody likes," coach Stan 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 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 first round in Dayton just to get to the round of 64.
Heath said Wednesday's 58-51 win at No. 19 Louisville won over a lot of critics. At the midway point of the Big East season, he had said it would take 12 Big East wins for him to know USF should be in. Now, 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 the 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 lower bowl. The Bulls drew a season-high 6,784 for Sunday's win against Cincinnati. West Virginia typically brings plenty of its fans as well.
AWAKE ON THE BUBBLE: At Thursday afternoon's practice, Heath had not yet slept since the Louisville game. The Bulls were held up several hours due to mechanical issues for their flight home and arrived on campus about 4:15 a.m. Then Heath drove to Lakeland for a morning tipoff and watched his younger son Josh help lead Tampa Prep to a state title.
"It's been an extreme high, a whirlwind," Heath said. "We've got to put our attention on West Virginia. … 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."