After being unable to close the deal against the Big East's top teams all season, the South Florida Bulls will get at least one more chance in the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. Seeded 15th in the Big East Tournament bracket, USF will face the 10th-seeded Villanova Wildcats in the first round on Tuesday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
Even though Nova is hanging around the periphery of the Top 25 and their spot in the NCAA Tournament is secure, they are reeling and banged up. The Wildcats are playing nowhere close to the level they were at in January when they peaked at 16-1 and reached #7 in the country. Since then, Villanova is only 5-9, with six losses in their last eight games and four in a row to end the regular season. Now with the Coreys (Stokes and Fisher) injured, the question around Philadelphia is whether or not the team can salvage their season:
The Wildcats enter Tuesday's first-round game in the Big East tournament against South Florida not knowing the status of Corey Stokes, who sat out Saturday's 60-50 loss to Pitt with a hamstring injury. In addition, Corey Fisher, struggling with tendinitis in his knee, went 3-for-14 and scored just seven points against the Panthers...
The Wildcats said the right things after Saturday's game, that it's a new season and that they're prepared to handle the high-stakes one-and-done nature of the post-season.
But even though Wright insists that the spirits of his players are great and that they come to practice prepared and ready to work, there is no reason to be very optimistic that the Wildcats will win more than one game in the Big East tournament, or get through the first weekend of the NCAAs.
Like they did against seemingly all of the up-and-down teams in the league, USF caught Villanova at its peak. In their only meeting of the season on January 7, the Bulls held tough for well over a half (stop me if you've heard this one before) until the Wildcats went on a second-half tear and claimed an 83-71 win. Stokes and Dominic Cheek combined for 39 points on 12-for-14 shooting, including an unbelievable 9-for-9 from three-point range. As a team, Villanova shot 58% from the field in that game at the Sun Dome.
We may not know very much about the status of Fisher and Stokes before game time. But their health, plus the odds that Villanova can't possibly shoot that well again, should give Bulls fans at least a little bit of hope as their team once again tries to knock out a Big East heavyweight.