Bad things are happening too quickly for the University of South Florida Bulls.
One Big East Conference defeat led to another. Now, USF (9-5, 0-2) faces two road games, beginning with this afternoon's date at the No. 3-ranked Louisville Cardinals (14-1, 2-0).
It's time to slow down.
Louisville came to know and hate that version of USF last season. The Bulls went to Louisville on Feb. 29, 2012 – on Senior Night, no less – and imposed their milk-the-shot-clock will upon the Cardinals, prevailing 58-51.
Soon after that, Louisville coach Rick Pitino declared that playing USF was "like getting a root canal.''
That version of USF set a Big East single-season record for defense at 56.6 points per game. That version of USF went 12-6 in the Big East, earning an NCAA tournament at-large bid and falling one victory short of the Sweet 16.
Last summer, Bulls coach Stan Heath predicted his team would maintain a defense-first identity, but foresaw a more up-tempo approach with increased scoring and some open-floor opportunities.
But things have changed.
USF's only true big man, 6-foot-11, 275-pound Waverly Austin, was denied admission three days before the fall semester. Injuries have been brutal. Another inside presence, senior Kore White, could be ready after missing four games. Bulls coach Stan Heath said the team's best outside shooter, senior Shaun Noriega, who hasn't played since Dec. 5 because of a stress fracture in his left foot, is "a few weeks away.''
Heath's biggest weapon remains sophomore point guard Anthony Collins, who ranks second in Big East assists (7.5) and fourth in assists-to-turnovers ratio (3.03). Collins' poise is needed against a Louisville team that ranks second nationally in turnover margin (8.1). The Cardinals force 20.3 turnovers per game and score 34 percent of their points off turnovers.
"We need our experienced guys to set the tone and we need our new guys to play hard, play with great energy and passion and play to their strengths,'' Heath said. "Louisville wants to try and speed you up, get you playing a lot quicker than you normally play. We've got to do a great job of playing quick, but not being in a hurry.''
Collins will be the key.
"We haven't lost too many Senior Nights at Louisville,'' Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said. "They controlled the tempo and used the clock. They have an old-school style of play where they play possession basketball. And they have a point guard (Collins) who can dominate those possessions.
"It's a difficult task. This time, we're going to be more prepared for it than we were on Senior Night last year.''