For a University of San Francisco men's basketball team that fielded only one senior player, center Moustapha Diarra, the future looks big and bright on the Hilltop. After starting out a miserable 4-9 to start the 2010-2011 season, something suddenly clicked. The Dons rocketed up the WCC standings going 13-4 in their final 17 games, including 10-4 in league play. This was the first time since Quintin Dailey suited up for USF in 1982 that they had won 10 games in conference play.
Young freshmen like Cody Doolin, who scored 23 against Gonzaga in an upset win, and Marko Petrovic, who earned substantial play in conference games, matured down the stretch and provided head coach Rex Walters with the ability to mix-and-match his line-up more effectively against opposing teams. Sophomores Mikey Williams and Perris Blackwell contributed consistent efforts on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, showing how their game had grown by leaps and bounds over the course of the year.
Everything seems to be looking up for a team that had been mired in well over a decade of mediocrity. Only one graduating senior means no real roster turnover and a consistency and familiarity which should allow the young players to grow even more. It all points to bigger and better things, along with greater success next season. The competition with Gonzaga and St. Mary's will be as fierce as always, but more maturity on the roster could mean more wins against both.
However, three letters stand to spoil USF's potential rise to the top of the WCC next season: BYU. One of the best, if not the best at the moment, teams in all of NCAA basketball joins the WCC next season. Despite the talent on St. Mary's and Gonzaga, neither of them possess the skill that BYU currently has. The Dons of San Francisco, despite the great promise and talent of their young players, probably don't have the ability to beat BYU given the problems both St. Mary's and Gonzaga give the Dons.
For USF this means their bright future needs to shine brightly now. A No. 3 seed in the WCC Tournament starting next weekend is nothing to gloss over and USF must capitalize on the opportunity they have before them.
The WCC sends one or two teams, typically, to the NCAA tournament. Is this likely to change with the addition of BYU? Possibly. Nevertheless, with BYU a near lock for the NCAA Tournament, the WCC Tournament would still decide who else gets the bid. The problem here being that because of BYU's clear advantage over the field BYU would be the odds-on-favorite to win the WCC Tournament.
This would leave USF in the position of having to earn an "at-large" bid. The Dons would have to play a much more difficult schedule and win those harder games in order to increase their RPI to get that at-large bid. Are they good enough to do so? Fans, players, coaches and alumni hope so. But, given the uncertainty of the future it would be better for the Dons to play the tournament of their lives and make the NCAA Tournament this year.
Opportunity is knocking, and the Dons need to actualize their potential in order to open the door.