|The big stretch comes next for USF. (AP)|
By Jeff Goodman
What we know: South Florida has already secured double-digit victories in the Big East with four regular-season games remaining.
What we also know: The Bulls don't have a ton of big-time resume wins, but opportunities remain: The last four games are at Syracuse, Cincinnati, at Louisville and West Virginia.
What most don't know: Stan Heath was without his most important player, freshman point guard Anthony Collins, for the first five games due to a hip flexor - which included those two bad losses against Old Dominion and Penn State.
That leading scorer Gus Gilchrist was out of the lineup for three games - including the loss to VCU.
That Jawanza Poland missed the first 11 games of the year due to a suspension (two games) and a back injury (nine games).
"I know we need to win a game or two the rest of the way," Heath said. "But I don't understand why we're so far on the outside."
He's right. If the name on the front of the jersey was, say, UConn or Syracuse or even Pittsburgh, the Bulls would be squarely on the right side of The Bubble. Instead, South Florida is looked at as pretenders because they haven't knocked off any of the big boys yet. It's not Stan Heath's fault that the league gave him Pittsburgh and Villanova twice in a year that both programs have taken a major hit.
"When I first heard that we were given Pittsburgh and Villanova, I thought that someone obviously doesn't like us," Heath said. "Those are perennially two of the best teams in our league."
"Now, in a way, it's hurt us," he added. "And I don't think it should."
With Collins in the lineup, the Bulls are 14-8 overall and 10-4 in Big East play. The last time they lost to an unranked team was back in 2011 -- Dec. 28 against UConn. The last three losses are at Notre Dame, at Marquette and at Georgetown.
"He's been the difference for us," Heath said of Collins. "He plays so hard and is so tough."
And he can play. Heath said that Baylor recruited him out of Houston, but the Bears opted to take junior college point guard Pierre Jackson instead. Collins went for a career-high 22 points and dished out six assists last night in a road win at Pittsburgh. Now it's off to Syracuse. Then back home to face Cincinnati, to Louisville and the regular-season finale at home against West Virginia.
"I'm not saying we should definitely be in right now," Heath said. "But I think we should be in the conversation."