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Low expectations motivate USF Bulls men's basketball team

"It's disrespectful to us, but then again, if you look at the record, we can't really say too much,'' junior forward Vic Rudd says. "What we've got to do is come out and prove we're not the 10th-best team in our conference, why we should be where we think we should be."
Published Oct. 16, 2013

TAMPA

The dysfunction inside One Buc Place has nothing on the disrespect within the Muma Basketball Center.

The walls of the Bulls' plush practice facility are rife with barbs, bleakness, even blasphemy. They've been that way since preseason drills formally began late last month. Seems a player can't break the plane of the locker room without being insulted.

Which is just the way the Bulls want it. Those unflattering online predictions about the 2013-14 season — most of which project USF to finish last in the American Athletic Conference — have become more galvanizing than toxic.

"We have it stapled on our lockers," senior F Vic Rudd said.

"It's disrespectful to us, but then again, if you look at the record, we can't really say too much. What we've got to do is come out and prove we're not the 10th-best team in our conference, why we should be where we think we should be."

If mediocre outlooks truly are motivation, the Bulls — coming off a 12-19 season that included a 3-15 finish in their final year in the Big East — have it in bulk supply.

CBSSports.com and athlonsports.com project USF to finish last in the American, with the latter placing no Bull on the first, second or third team of its preseason all-conference squad.

Three of CBS's six staffers pick USF to place last, with one placing it ninth. Doug Gottlieb, one of the staffers who actually played college basketball (at Oklahoma State), is one of two who pick the Bulls to finish sixth.

They'll likely face a similar forecast at today's conference media day in Memphis. Clearly, most pundits are granting little attention to — or appreciation for — the six-player signing class rated 12th nationally by HoopScoop.com.

Mostly ignored to this point is the Bulls' infusion of low-post brawn — in the form of freshmen John Egbunu (6 feet 10, 230 pounds) and Chris Perry (6-8, 245) — that should provide a low-post dimension missing last season.

And coach Stan Heath's assertion that USF now can stretch the floor with a nine-deep — or deeper — rotation apparently hasn't registered beyond Fowler Avenue. This is the paradox of most outlooks: They're based more on the past than the future.

The Bulls know they must foster respect. In the meantime, they'll feed off disrespect.

"It just brings a lot of motivation," said junior PG Anthony Collins, whose 6.5-assist average last season ranked 16th nationally.

"No one wants to see they're going to be a loser. Even the people who weren't here last year, they even feel bad about it. … So I think that's good for everyone, play with a chip on their shoulder, and I think it just brings out the best in everyone."

LADIES LAUDED: Unlike their male counterparts, USF's women are garnering widespread love in the American. Coach Jose Fernandez's club, coming off a second-round NCAA Tournament appearance, was picked to finish third in the conference Monday in a poll of its coaches.

"It's great to have those kinds of expectations for our kids and our program, and the respect of our league coaches to think of us in that way and give us that ranking," Fernandez said.

"But I tell you what, if we do finish No. 3 we're not worried about getting in the NCAA Tournament or not, we're going to be in."

BULL BITS: Sophomore volleyball standout Erin Fairs, who totaled 37 kills and 25 digs in recent matches against Louisville (loss) and Cincinnati (win), was named the American's player of the week. … With former G Aaron Holmes' hiring Monday at St. Petersburg Catholic (his alma mater), the bay area now features four ex-USF players in the boys basketball coaching ranks. The others — Fred Lewis (Middleton), Cedric Smith (Freedom) and Tommy Tonelli (Wharton).

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