A roller-coaster season on the Hilltop started with a depressing start to the season with the Dons of San Francisco going 4-9 to open the season.
After the big dip, however, USF stormed back with its best WCC record since 1982, going an impressive 11-4, including sweeps of Portland and Santa Clara and a split with Gonzaga.
Nevertheless, like any good roller coaster, they dipped back down again with one of those "we should have beaten them" losses against Gonzaga, where mental errors doomed USF's comeback effort. Season over at 17-14.
Not so fast, Dons faithful! The 2011 College Insider Tournament (created to allow more teams into postseason action) threw USF a lifeline. The Dons open up play Wednesday night at home against the Idaho Vandals of the WAC.
While the Vandals toppled conference powerhouse Utah State, it is their only true quality win of the year. Nothing really stands out about this Idaho team...well, aside from a 75-33 loss at Montana, a team USF beat.
This presents a wonderful opportunity for USF's young freshmen and sophomores to gain some valuable postseason experience without the grand pressure that the NCAA tournament brings with it, and without having to play a probable one-and-done against the likes of Kansas, Kentucky and Duke.
The CIT is filled with teams that the Dons can compete with and should win against. This is a good testing ground for a young team that sees itself as a challenger in the WCC and a team searching for an NCAA tournament bid next season. USF's road to the NCAA tournament starts with the CIT.
How much have they grown as a team? How much have Perris Blackwell and Mikey Williams grown as individuals on both sides of the ball? How much work is left to be done? These are all questions that will be answered through playing in the CIT.
If USF cannot compete with and beat the likes of Iona, Marshall and Idaho here, it says a lot about how much work needs to be done. Win a couple of games against above-average mid-major competition, and the grass looks a bit greener for next year's prospects.
Though pundits may write off the tournaments as "losers" tournaments, do not try telling that to these teams. A team like the Dons, whose goals may have been "oh please let us win a few" at the beginning of the season, probably did not even have postseason play marked on their calendars. The CIT presents a great opportunity for San Francisco to see how far it's come and how much further it needs to progress.
Wednesday Night's Game
Idaho (18-13; 9-7 WAC) at USF (17-14; 11-4 WCC)
War Memorial Gym, San Francisco, CA
7:00PM (PST) tip-off