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USF Bulls Beat: Men's basketball team closes out Big East era

TAMPA - Well, thanks for the memories.
Um, what memories?
In a sentimental week, with the Big East Conference staging its last true men's basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden before the league's mass exodus/makeover, perhaps it was appropriate that the University of South Florida Bulls (12-19) were the first team to be dismissed from New York.
The Bulls departed in painful style on Tuesday night, losing 46-42 in overtime against the Seton Hall Pirates, while surrendering an eight-point lead down the stretch.
What's up for next season? Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame are headed to the ACC. The so-called Catholic 7 – DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova – will keep the Big East name while starting its own basketball-driven league and presumably holding its tournament at the Garden.
USF's new no-name league (America 12?) will include short-timers Louisville (ACC in 2014) and Rutgers (Big Ten in 2014), along with Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, Temple, UCF, Houston and SMU. Tulane and East Carolina join in the 2014-15 season.
Since joining the Big East, the Bulls were 3-5 in playing only eight conference tournament games. In the regular season, USF was 38-102 in conference games, with 21 coming in the program's NCAA and NIT seasons.
Although USF's eight-season Big East stay wasn't exactly the stuff of Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Gerry McNamara, Kemba Walker, Louie Carnesecca, Jim Boeheim or Jim Calhoun, Bulls coach Stan Heath said his program benefitted greatly from the competition.
“I think it helped us grow and we played on a national stage,'' Heath said. “I've never seen a league like this one and I was in some great ones in the Big Ten and SEC. From top to bottom, there are no easy games. None. We didn't have a great season, but we weren't an easy out and we beat the No. 1 team in the league (Georgetown).
“All week, the tournament is going to be electric. Everybody knows it's one of the last chances to see a collection of teams like this at one site. I think I'm more of the mind to enjoy it and appreciate it instead of looking back with sadness. I appreciate the fact that we were able to be part of it and even with all the changes, I think big things are ahead for our program.''
Jose Fernandez's women's basketball team (21-10) has made its case for the NCAA tournament. Many prognosticators have the Bulls in the 64-team field, but as a No. 11 or No. 12 seed, which is right on the line for at-large teams.
USF will hold a watch party, open to the public, on Monday night at the Sun Dome. The ESPN selection show begins at 7 p.m.
“I think we showed that this team belongs in the NCAA tournament,'' Fernandez said after USF's 75-66 loss against No. 1-seeded Notre Dame (31-1) in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.
USF also got an endorsement from Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who has been impressed with the Bulls since surviving an overtime victory in Tampa on Jan. 8.
“I think they're a great team,'' McGraw said.
Softball pitcher Lindsey Richardson had her second no-hitter of the season and the Bulls tied a program record with four home runs in Tuesday night's 11-0 win against Maine. …Senior third baseman Kenshyra Jackson was named a Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I National Performer of the Week after a four-homer week. … Willie Taggart's football team opens spring practice on Wednesday, March 20.

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