Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Surprise, Surprise, the Bulls are 5-5

A lot of people are going to look Georgetown’s home loss to USF and say that Georgetown overlooked South Florida. Georgetown played USF sandwiched in between Top 10 opponents Duke and Villanova. But that’s not true and that’s not fair to USF.

A lot of people are going to see that Greg Monroe fouled out for only the 2nd time this season and say that Georgetown lost because of foul problems. But that’s only part of the story and that’s not fair to USF.

A lot of people are going to see Chris Wright struggled and say that’s why Georgetown lost. And while Chris Wright remains the perfect predictor of Georgetown’s success this year, even that’s not fair to USF.

South Florida was flat out the better team on Wednesday night.

John Thompson the 3rd said in pre-game that Georgetown didn’t have to worry about overlooking USF because Dominique Jones was playing so well and the team knew he would be a real challenge. And after watching the Pitt game this weekend, I was thinking about Jones too. Jones can get to 30 on any night if he wants to, just like Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell. So this afternoon I asked myself how many coaches would take Jones over Hazell. I thought the answer was “Everyone but Bobby Gonzalez”. (But after the way Hazell was loafing late in the Villanova game last night, the answer might be everyone.) And this game was the perfect example. Georgetown was double and triple teaming Jones early in the game and leaving other players open. And Jones did what Hazell doesn’t. Jones set up his teammates. And while his teammates were missing open shots, he showed he was willing to pass and Jones made the defense respect the pass.

Then at the start of the second half, USF ran two straight plays that picked up fouls number two and three on Greg Monroe. That was huge. Monroe had been dominating the game to this point on both ends of the court. But now Greg Monroe started playing tentative to avoid his 4th foul. And the light went off for USF. Stan Heath said it in the post-game. “We knew they were more aggressive in the first half, and we knew if we had a chance, we had to become the more aggressive team in the second half.” South Florida began to take the ball to the basket relentlessly, and South Florida quickly erased a 9 point deficit and built an 8 point lead on the Hoyas.

Make no mistake. Georgetown was not overlooking USF. Georgetown came out with intensity and was making shots. Early in the game Austin Freeman was fouled on a three point attempt and still hit nothing but net. At halftime Georgetown led by 9. This was not a Georgetown team that overlooked USF. USF simply played better basketball.

In his 3rd year at Arkansas, Stan Heath turned the Razorbacks into contenders. But it was too early in the process. His team was still missing pieces, and all he did was raise expectations. All he did was get himself fired. And I’ll admit, in Heath’s 3rd year at South Florida, I did not expect the Bulls to arrive. They had too many players that had struggled previously. They had too many transfers who didn’t fit in elsewhere, and couldn’t seem to find a role. It wasn’t that USF had no talent, but it didn’t seem to have the right talent. Well, in year three, Tom Izzo disciple Stan Heath is finally putting it together.

That’s not to say that USF fans should book NCAA tournament tickets. The mistake at Arkansas was that the fans expected too much too soon. But USF is finally showing the progress Stan Heath needs to build this program. For the first time since joining the Big East, we can say it. The Bulls have won 4 conference games in a row. The Bulls have arrived.

(Incidentally, Dominique Jones went a little crazy taunting the crowd after the win. I’d tell him to act like he’s been here before, but this is new territory for USF, so I’ll let him off the hook for now.)

-One of my running Illinois jokes while watching the games is that Brandon Paul can’t make a fast-break basket. He just seems to have a mental block about it. Tonight against Iowa was the best yet. After a steal gave him a 1 on 0, Paul missed a finger roll. Luckily for Paul there were still no Iowa defenders in the picture, so he was able to put in his own miss. You just can’t make this stuff up.

-Flipping back to my Pulse column, I want to point out two other errors. I called Duke’s horrible defense against NC State a fluke and Minnesota’s horrible defense against Indiana a fluke. Both Duke and Minnesota proved me wrong this weekend.