Making sense of the South Florida Bulls

I realize it’s pretty late in the season to still be “making sense” of someone, but the South Florida Bulls are an interesting case.  They are starting to be mentioned more frequently in bubble discussions based on their 10 Big East wins and a rising RPI that has them right at #50 through Sunday’s games.  That sounds pretty impressive, right?

Well, not so much.  When you juxtapose those numbers with the fact the Bulls lost to Penn State and Auburn earlier in the year and have zero wins against teams considered tournament locks, the luster comes off pretty quickly.  Their lone Top 50 win came at home by one point over a Seton Hall team that holds a precarious grip on an at-large bid according to most recent projections.

Supporters will be quick to point out that USF suffered at least a couple of its bad losses without the services of freshman point guard Anthony Collins and/or junior Jawanza Poland.  While that is true, both players have been with the team throughout Big East play, so let’s focus on that.

Through 14 conference games, the Bulls are scoring just over 1.01 points per possession, but that isn’t particularly impressive given that eight of their games have come against the five least efficient defenses in the league.  In fact, just three of their 14 Big East opponents rank in the top five in terms of defensive efficiency.  Against those teams, they have scored 0.86, 0.97, and 0.69 ppp, and they have yet to score more than 0.98 ppp against any team ranked better than 10th in defensive efficiency.

Consequently, you can take some of South Florida’s offensive numbers with a grain of salt, including the fact that they are fourth in the league in eFG% and OReb%.  Perhaps even more alarming, they rank dead last in TO% at 23.6% despite playing a weak schedule.  Even against the worst defenses, USF’s TO% has consistently been near or above 25%, including a staggering 34.4% against Marquette.

On defense, it’s a similar story.  Eight of the Bulls’ 10 wins have come against teams ranked 10th or lower in offensive efficiency, and none of them have come against the league’s five most efficient squads.  So while on the surface holding eight teams to 0.95 ppp or less looks great, the competition makes this a bit of a mirage.

That said, the USF defense has been relatively effective against some of their tougher competition.  They have played five games against teams ranked in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency and have surrendered 1.05, 1.05, 1.28, 1.15, and 0.81 ppp, so at least a few of those aren’t horrific.  As it stands, the Bulls rank second in DReb% and third in eFG% defense during league play.

The good news is that we’ll find out plenty about South Florida over their final four regular season games when they travel to Syracuse, host Cincinnati, play Louisville on the road, and return home to take on West Virginia.  Four tournament-caliber teams, four chances to prove their mettle.  Lose all four, and the team will be considered a fraud for certain, but at this point I’m not sure even one win significantly moves the dial on the Bulls.