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South Florida Bulls Basketball Team, From Big East Conference Cinderella to Cellar Dweller

David Butler II-USA Today Sports

How did the South Florida Bulls, last year’s Big East Conference Cinderella, turn into this season’s dungeon dwellers?

The Bulls (10-11, 1-8) will try to climb out of the last place in the league when they take on No. 24 Marquette Golden Eagles (15-5, 6-2) later this evening.

The Bulls surprised many last year when they made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years.  They got their first NCAA tournament win with a victory over California and then upset Temple to make it to the third round.

After finishing 12-6 in the Big East and an improbable tournament run, the Bulls went into the off-season optimistic. They returned even more optimistic as the university unveiled a newly renovated Sun Dome, their home arena.

But now the Bulls find themselves 1-8 in the Big East and struggling to get back to .500.  What happened?

Was their shut-down defense, anemic offense approach a gimmick easily figured out? Did early injuries impact the team more than anticipated?

The Bulls have had some ugly losses, including an embarrassing 64-38 loss to the Louisville Cardinals.    They seem to play the same tenacious defense they did last year.   But this year, those close games seem to slip away.  Their comeback attempts sputter. Their good luck seems to have run out.

Still fighting, yet visibly discouraged, the Bulls find ways to lose.   On Sunday, a 12-point halftime lead against the Connecticut Huskies vanished and the Bulls lost in overtime.  This was despite holding the Huskies to 29.8 percent shooting from the floor.

“You tell me we’re going to hold them to 29 percent shooting, 33 percent from 3, and we’re going to outrebound them, I’m thinking we’re leaving here with a win,” said USF coach Stan Heath after the UConn loss.  “We had great opportunities. We didn’t close the game very well.”

And that seems to be the problem for the Bulls this season; closing out games.  It could also be the difference between being Cinderella, who crashes the ball instead of the cellar dweller, whose dreams have been reduced to just catching a bit of fresh air.

Merlisa blogs about Big East Basketball.  Follow her on Twitter: @merlisa