The program that can't buy a break finally may be afforded one.
Forced to navigate their most daunting stretch of American Athletic Conference play without top scorer Payton Banks, the USF men might — might — have the senior wing available when that stretch concludes Saturday at home against No. 14 Cincinnati.
Banks (12.7 ppg), sidelined three of the last four games with an unspecified illness, was set to participate in the Bulls' practice Thursday. To that point, he had been doing individual and cardio workouts "to try to get his wind back," Coach Brian Gregory said.
"It's more how he recovers from the physical aspects of practice or workouts and different things like that," Gregory added. "I think the progress has been made this week that we want, we just need to see over the next 72 hours to see how (it goes) Saturday evening."
Banks, who leads the team with 32 3-pointers, played 10 minutes of the Bulls' 67-65 loss to East Carolina on Jan. 3, but missed games against Houston, SMU and Wichita State. USF (7-10, 0-4) lost those three games by an average margin of 32.3 points.
The Cougars, Mustangs and Shockers are a combined 39-11. Wichita State is ranked fifth.
"I'm with the guys every day, and I know that everybody is grinding to get better and trying to turn this around," said freshman G David Collins, averaging 9.3 points and three rebounds in conference play. "I don't fear that anyone is giving up, so I know that we still have a chance."
"I think the biggest thing, our guys understand the big picture," he said. "They understand where we're at, why they came here, what we're trying to get done. So they're still positive, they're still practicing hard, they're still competing hard."