By Jon Rothstein
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Stan Heath never lost faith.
Not after South Florida suffered two losses in their first five games.
Not after a plethora of early season injuries.
The Bulls coach seems to have weathered the storm in his fifth season in Tampa and has his team on the rise in Big East with a surprising 6-3 start in conference play. South Florida is 13-9 overall.
“We had a lot of injuries early,” Heath said. “Once we got our pieces back, I knew we had a chance.”
Coming into the season, there was a general feeling the Bulls could be a factor in the Big East if they stabilized their point guard play — and that’s exactly what happened with freshman floor general Anthony Collins.
The brother of former West Virginia point guard J.D. Collins, South Florida’s freshman maestro won’t dazzle you — but anyone who watches him know he doesn’t play like a first year player.
“When he stirs the drink, he creates baskets,” Heath said of Collins. “The thing I love about him is he doesn’t get rattled. He makes big plays in big moments.”
South Florida’s overall team balance has been its greatest strength. The Bulls have seven players averaging over six points per game.
“I like the makeup of a team with different options,” Heath said. “Augustus Gilchrist is our inside presence and Jawanza Poland has been our outside threat. We know who we are. We’re built on our defense and as a coach, that’s what you want.”
HALL OF A STRETCH
There are never any easy stretches in the Big East but the one Seton Hall is about to endure is exceptionally brutal.
The Pirates (15-6, 4-5), have lost four in a row and now hit the road for three straight games at Marquette, UCONN, and Rutgers before returning home to play Pitt at the Prudential Center in Newark on Sunday February 12th.
Kevin Willard’s team will need to win at least one of those three tilts away from home to keep it’s NCAA Tournament hopes in place.
GAELS DRAW NEVADA
Iona will play Nevada in the 10th annual BracketBuster event on February 18th. The Wolfpack lead the WAC and should provide a stern test to Tim Cluess’ squad despite not being one of the sexiest mid-majors on the board.
Below are some of the top matchups.
LONG BEACH STATE AT CREIGHTON
THE SKINNY: Doug McDermott may be the best player in this game but the highlight may be the point guard battle between the Blue Jays’ Antoine Young and the 49ers Casper Ware.
SAINT MARY’S AT MURRAY STATE
THE SKINNY: The Gaels will be the best team the Racers play all season. Keep an eye on the matchup between Murray State’s Ed Daniel and the Gaels’ Rob Jones inside.
DREXEL AT CLEVELAND STATE
THE SKINNY: It will be a shocker if either of these teams break 60. This game will be in the mud from start to finish.
WICHITA STATE AT DAVIDSON
THE SKINNY: The Shockers have been on the brink of the NCAA Tournament under Gregg Marshall and this game should provide another stern test. Bob McKillop’s team doesn’t have Stephen Curry but does possess a solid interior combo of Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks.
Can the Pirates weather the upcoming storm? Sound off below…