By Jeff Goodman
NEW YORK - Stan Heath and South Florida hardly did it in picturesque fashion, but the Bulls knocked off Villanova for the third time this season and reached the 20-win barrier in the process.
That means South Florida won a dozen Big East regular-season games, finished fourth in the league and has now won 20. The Bulls have reached the Big East quarterfinals for the first time in school history. It should be enough to get into the NCAA tournament -- and is definitely enough to get Stan Heath off that dreaded hot seat.
Remember, this South Florida team was without its most important player, freshman point guard Anthony Collins, for the first five games of the season due to a hip injury -- including two losses to Old Dominion and Penn State. Gus Gilchrist missed three games -- including the loss to VCU. Jawanza Poland missed the first 11 games of the year due to a suspension (two games) and a back injury (nine games).
They aren't pretty to watch on the offensive end, but South Florida has won enough -- in arguably the top league in America -- to earn a spot whether the Bulls knock off Notre Dame on Thursday or not.
"Twelve wins in this league," Heath said when asked if he thought he team was in the field after the win over 'Nova. "I don't know. I don't know why we shouldn't be."
If there's an argument, it's that South Florida hasn't beaten enough of the Big East's big boys.
Remember, they drew Pittsburgh, Villanova and Providence as the teams they played twice in conference play this season. No one had a clue that Pitt and 'Nova would finish towards the bottom of the Big East.
But South Florida did take care of both Cincinnati and also beat Louisville at the Yum! Center down the stretch.
These guys may not pass the "eye test" in terms that they aren't exactly pleasurable to watch on the offensive end, but South Florida has done enough to warrant inclusion in the Big Dance.