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USF men's and women's basketball teams eager for a turnaround

TAMPA — The exterior walls go up this week on the basketball practice center being built just south of the Sun Dome, and by this time next year, a major renovation of the 30-year-old arena should be complete.

Both will help the USF basketball teams, which are near the bottom of the Big East standings, combining for a 2-13 record in conference play after Tuesday night's women's victory against Seton Hall.

The two combined wins leave the Bulls behind Seton Hall (3-13) and Providence (3-10) and put them at risk of setting a low for combined men's and women's conference wins in basketball since the league went to its current lineup in 2005.

In the past five seasons, no college has finished with fewer than eight total Big East wins between its two teams — that's happened four times, including USF in 2007-08. Last year, the conference's balance was strong enough that all 16 programs had at least 10 league wins from their basketball teams.

Men's coach Stan Heath and women's coach Jose Fernandez were given new contracts with significant raises after last season, and the excitement surrounding the new practice center and arena renovations brings with it hope that such upgrades will help the Bulls in recruiting.

The investment has been made, and success, ideally, would help in the seats, where home men's attendance has averaged 3,307, a 32 percent drop from last season's final average. Six Big East home games remain — after a must-win Thursday against DePaul, four of the remaining home games are against ranked opponents, including No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 9 Syracuse and No. 15 Notre Dame, which will bring big crowds.

USF's home attendance is the lowest of any team in the NCAA's six biggest conferences. The next lowest is Mississippi State at 4,326, with only three other schools (Boston College, Miami, Rutgers) averaging fewer than 5,000 at home games.

Well done: Scout.com's national site, Collegefootballnews.com, ranked the 22 first-year coaches from 2010, with USF's Skip Holtz rated second, behind FSU's Jimbo Fisher. Of the other Big East rookies, Louisville's Charlie Strong was third, while Cincinnati's Butch Jones came in last.

This and that: USF will have a national signing day gathering for fans next week, with Holtz at Stump's Supper Club in Channelside from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 2. … Five of USF's fastest football players — WRs Sterling Griffin, Lindsey Lamar, Terrence Mitchell and Derrick Hopkins and CB Kayvon Webster — are on the track roster for the spring. The indoor season opened last week, with Webster the only one competing, finishing sixth in the 60 meters at a meet in Minnesota. … A strong week at the East-West Shrine Game boosted the draft stock of DT Terrell McClain, so far the only Bull invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis. On Tuesday, McClain was invited to this week's Senior Bowl.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and at (813) 226-3346.

USF men's and women's basketball teams eager for a turnaround 01/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 9:27pm]

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