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USF to finish season in conference tournament

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Championship Week comes to Orlando as 10 members of the American Athletic Conference will fight for the conference tournament championship at the Amway Center. The tournament kicks off on Thursday. SMU is ineligible for post season play.

Both Florida members will play on opening day. The first game pits the ninth-seeded USF Bulls against the No. 8 seed East Carolina Pirates.

This game will be the second meeting between the two teams in the span of eight days. The Pirates dominated the Bulls at the Sun Dome on March 2, winning 52-39. East Carolina was returning the favor after the Bulls won 69-52 in Greenville, North Carolina on February 16.

USF has had nothing short of a miserable season. They finished in 10th place at 4-14 and were just 7-24 overall. East Carolina had a similar conference record, but was 12-19 on the season.

In addition to the road win against East Carolina, the Bulls also knocked off No. 2 seed Houston and 10th seeded Tulane on the road. USF’s lone conference win at home came on February 20 in a stellar performance against sixth-seeded Memphis. They have not won since.

The game will be shown on ESPNU beginning at 3:30 p.m. If the Bulls can knock off East Carolina, they will face top-seeded Temple on Friday, who won the conference regular season title with a 14-4 record.

Tournament host Central Florida will open tournament play 30 minutes following the USF-East Carolina game. The seventh-seeded Knights will take on the No. 10 seed Tulane Green Wave.

Central Florida finished the conference season with a 6-12 record and 12-17 overall. Tulane was 3-15 and 10-21 over the season.

Central Florida defeated Tulane in both regular season games. The Knights won in New Orleans, 70-62 on February 4 and 73-65 in Orlando on March 2.

The game will be shown on ESPN News. If the Knights advance, they will play the No. 2 seed Houston Cougars on Friday.

Temple is favored, but it would not be a shock if four or five other teams come through with the tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Currently, the Owls, Connecticut and the Cincinnati Bearcats are in the 68-team field, but not solidly, according to ESPN’s normally accurate Joe Lunardi. A first round loss could be costly to all three either for seeding or making the tournament.

Surprises can happen. For instance, who could have predicted USF could beat Houston on the road? The Cougars lost only 8 games all season.

Expect an upset or two over the coming days. The I-4 corridor hopes it can come from either the Knights or the Bulls.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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