A cursory browse of social media reveals a handful of USF basketball coaches and administrators urging fans to return to the Yuengling Center tonight and replicate the energy they produced Saturday against Houston.
These aren’t boilerplate solicitations; the Bulls (12-6, 2-4) need every decibel they can muster. Tonight’s contest against Wichita State contains more of a must-win vibe than even Saturday’s contest.
If USF is to end its six-year postseason tournament drought, it must take care of business against beatable opposition at home. Hence the reason tonight’s contest against struggling Wichita State (8-9, 1-4) is so critical.
Simple math bears this out. The Bulls will play a minimum 31 contests, meaning they need four more victories to assure themselves of a .500 record. While they’ve proven capable of defeating any league team on a given night, the American Athletic Conference as a whole has proven no automatic W’s exist in league play.
Nine teams have at least 11 wins, and two others (East Carolina, Wichita State) are only a game below .500 at 8-9. Only Tulane (4-13, 0-5) is a true bottom-feeder.
“I think we’re capable of beating any team, and we’re capable of losing to any team in this league,” Bulls coach Brian Gregory said last week.
“There are probably 10 other teams in the league that could say the same thing. This league is much better than last year, in my opinion, from watching film on everybody now. ... It’s gonna be a dogfight every single night.”
Hence the reason the Bulls, on a three-game skid, need some added bark from their audience this evening.
Wichita State, which has yet to win a road game this season, returned only three scholarship players (and 11.2 minutes per game) from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad. The Shockers currently are last in the AAC in field-goal percentage (41.8).
But on Wednesday, they defeated UCF by eight, handing the Knights their first league loss.
Nonetheless, this is a favorable matchup for the Bulls, in a friendly setting. In a parity-driven league, it qualifies as a can-win game.
And a must-win one.