Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF Bulls overcome doubts, relish spot in NCAA tournament


The team had been lost forever. Why, then, were the final moments so difficult?

This was agony. This was torture. It was hard to watch, harder to hear. With every moment that passed, with every slot that was filled, the tension built and the stomachs tightened. Success was still possible, but increasingly, failure was a possibility.

In other words, yeah, it was like watching the USF team play basketball.

How else would you think they would finally get into the NCAA Tournament?

This was painful. This was eternal. Everyone was aware it had been 20 years since the USF team had been in the NCAA Tournament, but for heaven's sake, it felt as if USF had spent most of that time cramped in the men's film room in the USF Muma Center. The entire South bracket was revealed, and USF was not among the teams. The West teams were revealed, and USF was not among them. The East was announced, and still no USF.

Thirty six minutes passed.

Fifty-eight teams were announced.

And then they were in, and like every shot of every team you have seen over the years, the players had risen and the coach was looking for someone to swap palms with and everyone was smiling over newfound acceptance. The difference is this year, finally, it was this USF team of dreamers. After all this time, they were once again a team that mattered.

For 7,303 days, they had been just another team in whatever league they happened to be in. There had been so many lost games, so many missed baskets, and so many ignored seasons. When it came to basketball, the team didn't stand a chance. It didn't matter who played, and it didn't matter who coached. To many, USF was a team that was in over its head, and in the Big East, it didn't stand a chance.

You have to understand all of this, the years when USF didn't even qualify for its conference tournament, the years of seven wins, to understand just how big this achievement was. Some teams might scoff at being among the NCAA's First Four games. Not USF.

"I just wanted to make the field," Heath said.

Oh, there was doubt. The more you read from the bracketologists (a fancy word for "guessers"), the more you heard about Drexel and Washington and Seton Hall, the more you wondered if USF would make it into the field. On every show, the Bulls seemed to be one of the teams that the loudest voices were discussing. They didn't beat enough good teams. The Big East was down. Blah, blah, blah. And furthermore, blah.

And so, USF wondered through BYU and Iona and the rest of the bid-stealers. Would those final nightmarish moments against Notre Dame come back to haunt them? Would the early non-conference failures catch up to them? No Big East team had ever had 12 league victories dismissed so quickly. Would the committee do the same?

"I didn't know," Heath said. "You never know. When you're one of those last group of teams getting in, it's really splitting hairs. You don't know what the small thing is that puts you ahead of another team. I felt we had done quite a bit.

"It would have been difficult to swallow if we hadn't gotten in. We accomplished quite a bit. But if we didn't get in, it would have been our fault. We had things in our hands that we let get away. I wouldn't have blamed anyone, because we had an opportunity to make our resume better."

Still, the Bulls won 12 conference games (another in the tournament), and no Big East team had ever been left out with that many. Consider this: The Bulls were picked 14th in their own conference, which means they beat a lot of teams they weren't supposed to beat this year.

Much of this, of course, comes back to Heath. When he first arrived on campus, you didn't know if you should congratulate him or console him. Considering the league, considering the lack of tradition, this was perhaps the toughest job in America.

"I felt we could turn it around, or I wouldn't have taken the job," Heath said. "I knew it was a difficult challenge. But I saw us as a team that could get to the NCAA Tournament. I didn't know how long it would take. But I never would have come here if I thought we were just going to get beat up every year."

Through stubbornness, through resiliency, through scoring droughts so long you wondered if the basket had been nailed shut, this team has made it.

So, do you think USF will have to wait for another 20 years?

"No way," Heath said. "No, no, no, no. This is just one step in the right direction. We're building something. We're not satisfied with where we are. We see a bright future in front of us."

For Heath, for USF, the plan is to start toward that future Wednesday night in Dayton.

Now that they're in, after all, they might as well win.


NCAA berths for Florida teams

Team by team

Florida (17): 1987, 1988, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012

FSU (14): 1968, 1972, 1978, 1980, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

Miami (6): 1960, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2008

Jacksonville (5): 1970, 1971, 1973, 1979, 1986

UCF (4): 1994, 1996, 2004, 2005

USF (3): 1990, 1992, 2012

FAMU (3): 1999, 2004, 2007

FAU (1): 2002

FIU (1): 1995

Three teams

in NCAA Tournament

2012: Florida, Florida State, USF

2004: UCF, Florida, FAMU

2002: Florida, FAU, Miami

1999: Florida, FAMU, Miami

.Fast facts

Tickets on sale

A limited number of tickets are available for USF's first-round game and are $60 a ticket plus a $3 service charge. Requests must be made by 5 p.m. today. Visit

USF Bulls overcome doubts, relish spot in NCAA tournament 03/11/12 [Last modified: Sunday, March 11, 2012 10:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated


    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humiliation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  2. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person



    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  3. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    The Rays still talk about having a shot to make the playoffs. But recognizing and correcting mistakes will help them next year, such as Mallex Smith trying to steal third in the first. "Those are the little things we've got to find how to eliminate real quick," manager Kevin Cash said.

  5. Bucs probe how to fix deep-ball chances missed vs. Bears


    TAMPA — It was only minutes after the Bucs had demolished the Bears 29-7 Sunday when quarterback Jameis Winston tried one final time to connect with receiver DeSean Jackson.

    QB Jameis Winston says he’s focused on the deep-ball chances to DeSean Jackson he missed in the opener: “We left a lot out there.”