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AAC drought persists for Bulls as Knights showdown nears

USF is trying to avoid the program's first winless season in conference play.
USF's Payton Banks drives against Cincinnati's Trevor Moore during the second half of last weekend's game, a 78-55 Bearcats triumph. (Associated Press)
USF's Payton Banks drives against Cincinnati's Trevor Moore during the second half of last weekend's game, a 78-55 Bearcats triumph. (Associated Press)
Published Jan. 18, 2018|Updated Jan. 18, 2018

Aside from the occasional foray into March Madness (or at least the NIT), USF men's basketball typically has hovered between the mediocre and miserable.

But this winter, the Bulls are flirting with the historic.

Though roughly 40 percent of the season remains, USF (7-12, 0-6) appears in danger of going winless in conference play for the first time in program history. USF first joined a league (the Sun Belt) in 1976, and has won at least one conference game every season.

But the Bulls already have dropped the two games — a home-and-home series against American Athletic Conference foe East Carolina — expected to represent their best chances at a victory.

In Wednesday night's embarrassing 90-52 loss at ECU (8-10, 2-5), USF trailed 19-3 early on and 44-18 at halftime. The Pirates, the AAC's worst 3-point shooting team, finished 11-of-19 from long range (57.9 percent) and out-rebounded the Bulls 33-19.

No Bulls player had more than three rebounds. Compounding the club's misery, an area snowstorm prevented the team from flying out Wednesday night. USF practiced in Greenville on Thursday and was set to return home that evening.

"Our margin of error is very, very small," first-year coach Brian Gregory said on the Bulls' postgame radio broadcast.

"We got very few points in the post today, and again, we've got guys who are playing multiple minutes that are not rebounding the ball for us. And that's a grave concern, because … if you're gonna get out-rebounded by 14 and have 18 turnovers, I'm just telling you, you have no chance to win the game."

The Bulls, whose overhauled roster features nine new scholarship players (and a whole-new staff) this season, have 12 games remaining before the AAC tournament, starting with Saturday night's home clash with rival UCF.

While they are losing conference games by an average margin of 26.7 points, they have put together encouraging stretches. They lost to ECU by only two in their first meeting, and led No. 12 Cincinnati for most of the first half last Saturday before falling, 78-55.

Whether they can sustain such en effort the better part of 40 minutes — and avoid history — remains to be seen.

"We're not as bad as we played tonight," Gregory said Wednesday. "I think we're much more like the 30 minutes you saw against Cincinnati, and we're gonna have to play that was for 40 minutes on Saturday (against UCF)."


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