TAMPA — The recent surge of the USF men's basketball team has given Bulls fans a rare chance to legitimately talk about playing in the postseason, something the team hasn't done since the 2002 postseason NIT.
But the success of the Bulls' 4-5 start in Big East games has its limits, and USF must sustain a high level of play much longer to have a realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992.
"They're not on my radar at the moment," said analyst Jerry Palm, a bracket expert who crunches numbers in calculating teams' RPI, with USF No. 54, two spots behind Florida. "They're going to have to do really well — .500 in the Big East isn't going to do it. They could get in at 10-8, but it would really depend on who the 10 wins are against."
With each conference win, the Bulls move a step closer, but the next nine games will show how tough the Big East can be. In its 14-7 start, USF is 11-1 against teams with an RPI of 80 or higher, and 3-6 against top-80 teams, with wins against Pittsburgh (20), Seton Hall (59) and Kent State (69).
The next six games are against top-80 teams, including four road games, with tonight at Georgetown (3) and later at Villanova (4).
To lock up a spot in the postseason NIT — a significant step forward for a team that went 9-22 and 4-14 in the Big East last season — the Bulls likely need to win at least four more games, including any in the Big East tournament. Doing so would put them no worse than 18-13. A year ago, Seton Hall went 17-15 and 7-11 and missed the NIT cut.
Players and fans are aiming high, motivated by talk of the NCAA Tournament, but reaching any postseason games will require more of the same success the Bulls have found in the past two weeks.
"This isn't the goal. We're not where we want to be," coach Stan Heath said. "This team came into the season knowing we had some really good pieces, some talent, enough that we could beat anybody if we play hard enough."
Academic honors: USF placed 13 players on the academic team, up from a record eight last season. The team honors student-athletes who maintain a 3.0 grade-point average after at least two semesters of college.
Leading the way are two three-team All-Academic honorees, in P Delbert Alvarado and OL Jake Sims, with S Nate Allen and WR Patrick Richardson earning repeat honors as well. The others honored: Ks Maikon Bonani and Eric Schwartz, WRs Colby Erskin and Tyler Stowell, G Chaz Hine, LBs Mike Lanaris and Armando Sanchez, QB/WR Evan Landi and RB Joel Miller.