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USF men’s basketball is on a surprising surge. Here are 4 reasons why

To this point, its surge has been convincing, if not conspicuous.

For more than a month now, the USF men’s basketball team has taken its fans on an improbable joyride, albeit from a backseat — to Bulls and Bucs football.

Who could’ve projected that Alex Golesh and Todd Bowles would lead their respective teams to riveting postseasons? But while those teams have flourished, USF first-year men’s coach Amir Abdur-Rahim’s squad quietly has done the same.

The Bulls (9-5, 2-1 American Athletic Conference) have won seven of their last eight, a stretch that started with a 16-point victory against FSU on a neutral court. After a wobbly start, Abdur-Rahim’s club has congealed. Lately, the Bulls have been efficient, proficient and wildly entertaining.

As it enters Thursday night’s showdown at No. 10 Memphis, we look at four reasons USF is the first Bulls club in five years to stand four games above .500 through 14 contests.

They’ve found a long-range touch

Considering this program has struggled to develop a 3-point rhythm since Reggie Kohn departed 20 years ago, the Bulls’ recent long-range proficiency has been astounding.

In its last eight contests, USF has shot 39% (77 of 197) from 3-point range, nearly 6% higher than its season average. Its 9.6 3-pointers per game in that same span is nearly two more than its overall average (7.4). Senior Selton Miguel, one of the few holdovers from the Brian Gregory era, has led the way, shooting nearly 50% from long range (23 of 47) during the Bulls’ 7-1 stretch.

Don’t be shocked if their shooting touch lingers. As recently as three games ago, Abdur-Rahim publicly bemoaned his shooters’ hastiness, suggesting they all were “trying to hit the long ball” after a 3-for-15 effort in the first half of a Jan. 4 home win against Temple.

In the last 2½ games, they’ve shot nearly 40% (24 of 61) from the 3-point line.

They’ve established depth, balance

The recent surge has been an ensemble effort. For the season, the Bulls rank 37th nationally — and second in the AAC — in bench points per game (27.9), with 10 players averaging at least nine minutes.

Skewering that stat is the fact Miguel — second on the team with 14.6 points per game — has come off the bench in 10 of 14 contests. Still, the Bulls are achieving balance; eight players average at least five points, and none average more than 14.9.

“They’ve got to continue to embrace that and buy into it,” Abdur-Rahim said following last Friday’s 81-73 home win against Rice, when four players scored in double figures, led by junior Kasean Pryor’s 29.

“It’s not the cool thing, guys. It’s not the thing that gets you likes on Instagram, it’s not the thing that gets you retweets on Twitter. Team basketball ... it does get you playing in March, and that’s the goal.”

Jayden Reid is for real

A 5-foot-10 freshman from New York, Reid has emerged as a crown jewel in the Bulls’ collaborative effort. In the last eight contests, the former three-star prospect has averaged 9.6 points, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 56.3% (9 of 16) from long range.

A sure-fire sign of his maturity manifested itself in last week’s win against Rice. Despite missing all five of his shots from the floor, Reid still managed five assists, three steals and zero turnovers in 29 minutes.

They’re protecting the ball

Perhaps the most significant stat to date has been the team’s plus-3.9 turnover margin, 28th-best nationally and tops in the AAC. That margin has improved to plus-4.3 in the last eight contests.

In the win against Rice, the Bulls forced 18 turnovers while committing only six.

“It’s not good, it’s not great, that’s elite,” Abdur-Rahim said. “That is elite right there, when your assist-to-turnover ratio is 3-to-1.”

Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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