Led by junior guard Dominique Jones, USF is making a run toward the upper echelon of the Big East faster than many people expected. (Photo courtesy of ABC News)
Every year, there is one team that comes from seemingly out of nowhere to contend in the Big East, and the sleeper of 2010 may just come from the southernmost school in the 16-team conference.
That's right, South Florida. Despite having been among the lower level of the Big East since their move from Conference USA in 2005, the Bulls go into Sunday's matchup with Pitt with a 3-5 record in conference, a change of pace from what USF is used to, having won just eleven Big East games before this season.
However, the Bulls have talent, and it is primarily in the form of junior guard Dominique Jones, who averages an astounding 21.4 points per game for the 13-7 Bulls; not to mention newcomer Jarrid Famous, who pulls down just over eight rebounds a night.
USF is a program that head coach Stan Heath has quietly rebuilt, and the affable head man is no stranger to success, having been an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State before taking Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002 as a rookie head coach in Division I, a rare feat considering the road to success in college hoops. At Big East media day in October, Heath gushed over his team and their prospects for this season, and said that the "respect factor" was prevalent in USF's recruiting after the Bulls knocked off conference powerhouses Syracuse and Marquette in consecutive seasons, not to mention nearly beating UConn at home in an unforgettable overtime game that the Huskies won by just one point.
In addition, anything can happen in the Big East. Just look at DePaul, who broke a 24-game conference losing streak against Marquette last week. The Blue Demons also upset a heavily favored Cincinnati team in the first round of last year's Big East tournament. Can we see the same result from the Bulls this year?
Coach Heath and the college basketball world have every reason to be optimistic, as this program definitely is on their way to a bright future.