As the Tampa Bay Rays prepare for a season that they hope will include a fourth trip to the playoffs in five years, they’re throwing a nod to a neighbor that’s also hoping to make some postseason noise.
As they took batting practice on Monday at their spring training facility in Port Charlotte, Florida, the Rays donned “USF Madness” T-shirts, a salute to the basketball team from the University of South Florida, which is seeking its first appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament in 20 years.
The Tampa-based school was last a part of March Madness in 1992, when the Bulls dropped a 75-60 decision to current Big East rival Georgetown in the first round of the West Regional. Since then, the Bulls have made just four postseason appearances, advancing to the quarterfinals of the NIT in 1995 and losing first-round games in 2000, 2002 and 2010.
This year, however, the Bulls are 19-12 (12-6 Big East), and are seeded sixth in this week’s Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. USF will face either Villanova or Rutgers on Wednesday.
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Current projections by analysts like Jerry Palm of CBS Sports and College RPI have the Bulls in the tournament field, but USF will look to seal its place with a strong showing in New York this week.
The Rays’ support for the Bulls started with manager Joe Maddon, who raised the idea of wearing USF t-shirts during batting practice. The Rays, who dropped their first two Grapefruit League games, will look to get their first win of spring training on Monday afternoon, when they face the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. ET at Charlotte Sports Park.