Another pivotal game awaits the South Florida Bulls this afternoon at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on their quest to claim the program's first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. The opponent in USF's regular-season finale is the West Virginia Mountaineers, who are in danger of sliding out of the field of 68 completely. Tipoff is at noon, with TV coverage on Bright House Sports Network and on the Big East Network.
USF (19-11, 12-5 Big East) picked up the signature win they badly needed for their Tournament resume on Wednesday, knocking off #19 Louisville 58-51 on the road. Jawanza Poland led the Bulls with 16 points, including a clutch three-pointer and a long baseline jumper off an inbounds play to keep the Cardinals at bay in the final minutes of the game. A win over West Virginia and a loss by either Notre Dame or Georgetown would earn USF a "double bye" at next week's Big East tournament, meaning they would skip the first two days of play and advance straight to Thursday's quarterfinals.
While the Bulls are surging towards the postseason, West Virginia (18-12, 8-9 Big East) is sagging. The Mountaineers have lost seven of their last 10 games, although they did rally to beat DePaul 92-75 on Tuesday. Truck Bryant led WVU with 28 points, while Kevin Jones added 22 points and 16 rebounds. The Mountaineers' record is a bit deceiving -- they've lost to Baylor, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Marquette, and Louisville by a total of 12 points -- but they may need to win this game just to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture. They also need a win and a Seton Hall loss to avoid playing on the first day of the Big East tournament, which would force them to win five games in consecutive days to claim the league's automatic bid.
USF has been heavily marketing this game and should see easily its biggest and loudest crowd of the season at the Forum. And just to add to the excitement and rancor, this will likely be the last time these two teams play each other as conference members, as West Virginia rather rudely departs for the Big XII this summer.