Imagine being President Obama's Special Advisor for National College Hoops Affairs seven days ago and trying to tell our nation's chief executive, "Sir, never mind the Georgetown game against Duke this Saturday. That's going to be a blowout. I think the really competitive contest is going to be the one next week against South Florida. Better make plans to go see Stan Heath's Bulls when they come to town!"
Of course Rahm Emanuel would have called your hoops advice "retarded," but subsequent events would indeed prove you correct. The Hoyas had no trouble blowing the venerable Blue Devils off the court last Saturday, but John Thompson III's team fell to perennial Big East afterthought USF on that very same Verizon Center court last night, 72-64.
Georgetown led by nine at the half but the Bulls outscored the Hoyas 46-29 over the final 20 minutes of this contest, thanks in equal parts to Greg Monroe's foul trouble and Dominique Jones' relentlessness. Jones ended the evening with 29 points; during his team's current four-game winning streak he's averaging 35 points per outing. More importantly, he's scoring all those points with ruthless efficiency, hitting 61 percent of his twos over that four-game stretch and getting to the free throw line with what can only be called Hansbroughian frequency. Not bad for a guy who couldn't even make the All-Big East third team last year.
Let's see, scrappy underdog defeats heavily-favored blue-chip program thanks to the heroic efforts of a tenacious guard who attacks the rim over and over again. That's kind of becoming the Zen of '10, isn't it? Where Devan Downey had a magical last four minutes against Kentucky, though, Jones is having an outstanding season, one in which he is the sole and direct cause of South Florida's, uh, surgence. (Well, you can't very well call it a resurgence. It's not like they've done this before.)
With a porous defense that has stayed pretty much the same over the course of the Big East season, the Bulls are suddenly winning because they are suddenly scoring a ton of points. And with an offense that is OK but not outstanding from the field, the Bulls are suddenly scoring a ton of points because their turnovers have suddenly disappeared. Completely.
Freakishly responsi-Bull (har!) with the ball
South Florida 2010, first six games vs. last four
Conference games only
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP) TO%: turnover percentage
W-L PPP Opp. PPP EM TO%
First six 1-5 0.95 1.09 -0.14 21.7
Last four 4-0 1.19 1.11 +0.08 11.7
The practice of referring to any team as "(Leading Scorer) and the (Team)" is not one I generally endorse, but certainly you could make a strong case for getting into the habit of saying "Dominique Jones and the South Florida Bulls." He's always on the floor (during the past four games he's played 98.8 percent of the available minutes) and the ball's always in his hands. Jones is respectable from outside, he dishes assists, minimizes turnovers, and he can finish in the paint. This is his team.
Dominique's team is starting to move up in the per-possession rankings.
We're No. 12!
Through games of February 3, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession Opp. PPP: opponent PPP
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Villanova 9-0 71.4 1.20 1.03 +0.17
2. West Virginia 7-2 62.9 1.14 0.98 +0.16
3. Syracuse 9-1 70.2 1.09 0.97 +0.12
4. Marquette 5-5 64.0 1.12 1.03 +0.09
5. Louisville 5-4 67.2 1.14 1.06 +0.08
6. Georgetown 6-4 65.2 1.09 1.03 +0.06
7. Pitt 6-4 63.4 1.05 1.03 +0.02
8. Cincinnati 5-4 66.8 1.04 1.03 +0.01
9. Connecticut 3-6 69.4 1.00 1.02 -0.02
10. Notre Dame 4-5 66.8 1.11 1.14 -0.03
11. Providence 4-6 73.4 1.08 1.12 -0.04
12. S. Florida 5-5 66.3 1.04 1.09 -0.05
13. Seton Hall 3-6 68.5 1.05 1.10 -0.05
14. St. Johnís 2-7 66.4 0.94 1.03 -0.09
15. Rutgers 2-8 70.0 0.95 1.15 -0.20
16. DePaul 1-9 63.4 0.92 1.13 -0.21
Yes, South Florida is fortunate to be 5-5 when opponents have outscored them by 0.05 points per trip over the course of ten games. After all, the current four-game winning streak has included two wins in OT. In fact this whole USF mania started with the Bulls trailing Providence by 13 with two minutes left in regulation on January 23. When USF ended up winning that game the resulting hue and cry from Friardom was rather intense. Maybe if Providence had known they were losing to a budding Team of Destiny they would have been more cool with that whole "collapse" thing.
In any event the Bulls' strange new respectability is great news not only for the program but also for the conference. Just between us girls, the Big East accepted South Florida basketball like parents forced to tolerate an annoying new son-in-law: USF hoops was simply the necessary price to be paid for South Florida football and the resulting eight-team BCS league.
Now look. USF, hitherto synonymous with "arriviste" where major-conference basketball programs are concerned, is winning road games at Georgetown and earning its keep. Stan Heath's team is on a trajectory to finish at or around .500 in Big East play, a mark which would earn them consideration for their first NCAA bid in 18 years. It really is too bad the President missed seeing this team. They're doing unexpected and potentially historic things.
John also steals sound bites from Rahm Emanuel on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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