TAMPA — As both USF basketball teams sort out their postseason future, 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 in the Big East after going 3-15 last year; USF women finished 8-8 after going 3-13.
So in terms of combined conference wins, men and women, USF has 13 more, easily the most 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 improvement comes at a time when the Bulls' home arena, the Sun Dome, is being renovated, so home games have been played at alternate venues. USF's women's team made its gains despite top scorer Andrea Smith missing the entire season recovering from knee surgery. And the men's team's surge into Big East relevance already counts 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 USF, 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.
Barring a Big East championship, USF's women are likely headed to the Women's NIT. But there's a greater opportunity for Heath's team, which has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. That, more than any statistical honor, would cement this team's place in USF history.
GETTING HEALTHY: Former Bulls RB Darrell Scott, who left after his junior year to enter the NFL draft, ran a disappointing 4.73 at the NFL combine this week. He said Monday he was limited by a quad injury, one he hopes to have recovered from when USF holds its Pro Day for scouts 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," he 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 they had 10 errors, including five by SS 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 save and 23 strikeouts in 16 innings. USF softball is 10-1 entering today's home game against No. 12 Michigan. … USF baseball gets a spring training exhibition at 1:05 Friday against the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.
Here are the college basketball programs with the best improvements in combined conference victories for their men's and women's teams.
* entering Tuesday's games