The USF men are enjoying a bona fide breakthrough season.
Discredit their 12-3 record at your own risk; it contains nary an ounce of deception. The Bulls are beating teams that defeated them last year (Appalachian State, UConn), and are only 10 points removed from 15-0. They took resurgent Georgetown to overtime, and lost on a buzzer-beater on the road to a solid Tulsa squad.
At this stage, the Bulls are as genuine as Brian Gregory's north Chicago accent. But for all they've proven so far, few will argue they're about to embark on a stretch that could define their season.
Starting today at Temple (2 p.m., ESPNU), USF faces a rugged stretch that includes a trip Tuesday to Cincinnati and a home game next weekend against No. 17 Houston.
The Owls, Bearcats and Cougars are ranked 41st, 37th and ninth — respectively — in the NCAA NET rankings, which replaced the RPI as the primary tool for evaluating teams' tournament resumes. USF is 100th.
By contrast, none of the Bulls' first 15 opponents are ranked higher than 90th (Tulsa) in the NET system. Of the teams USF has defeated, UConn is ranked highest, at 91.
Temple (12-3, 2-1), which has defeated two SEC teams (Georgia, Missouri), is "as tough as anybody in the country," Bulls coach Brian Gregory said. Cincinnati (13-3, 2-1) defeated UCLA by 29.
And Houston (15-1, 2-1) won its first 15 before losing Wednesday — to Temple.
So consider this upcoming three-game gauntlet a telling gauge of how the Bulls stack up against the American Athletic Conference's elite. If it notches even one win during this stretch, USF would be assured of a .500 record or better through six games of conference play for the first time since 2012.
Which would only add to this team's legitimacy.
Because it's legit already.