Ambiance: Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Sunshowers (video link, pops up in a new window. The source for a number of songs you may have heard)
Well, maybe it’s better to follow up the home loss to Seton Hall at Carnesecca Arena with a game at South Florida. The weather’s nicer, there are fewer hometown distractions and two of the Red Storm’s 10 road wins in Norm Roberts’ stewardship happened at the Sun Dome.
But unlike the Bulls of old, South Florida is unlikely to cooperate with their role as the league’s 98-pound weakling. In fact, South Florida is one of the best stories in the Big East, a team rising to competitiveness from nothing. A basketball team with very little tradition (and an 18-year drought from the NCAA tournament), only in the Big East because their up-and-coming football program was desirable.
Those Bulls are firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Bulls will be favored at home – that’s what beating Virginia, Seton Hall, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, along with a road win over top-ten Georgetown – will do. Dominique Jones had been a lone star, carrying the team on his own.
Now, he has some help. Coach Stan Heath has cobbled together JUCOs, transfers, and unheralded players into a competitive unit with ballooning dreams. The Bulls hope to dispatch St. John’s quickly and concentrate on the kind of streak that will get them on the national stage for once.
According to the NY Post, there will be some punishment for St. John’s starters DJ Kennedy and Sean Evans for their role in a post-game altercation after the Seton Hall loss. I assume they will play, but one never knows how harsh a punishment might be announced with an athletic administration so concerned with the “culture” of the program (i.e., not looking thuggish).
Whatever the punishment is, and whoever plays, the game won’t be easy. Can the Red Storm put a damper on South Florida’s aspirations?
Tip Off: 12:00 PM, Saturday, February 20
Location: Sun Dome
Radio: Bloomberg 1130
South Florida (16-9, 6-7)
20 G Dominique Jones SR 6’4 205: 21.8 ppg* 6.2 rpg* 4.2 apg* 1.8 spg* 35% 3PT
33 G Mike Mercer JR 6’4 190: 8.7 ppg* 4.2 rpg
24 F-C Augustus “Gus” Gilchrist JR 6’10 235: 16.7 ppg* 6.9 rpg* 1.1 bpg* 51.5% FG* 62.5% 3PT
31 F-C Jarrid Famous JR 6’11 240: 11.6 ppg* 7.8 rpg* 54.2% FG
32 F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick JR 6’8 230: 22.7 mpg* 4.9 ppg* 5.1 rpg
10 G Anthony Crater JR 6’3 202: 27.5 mpg* 3.6 ppg* 1.7 apg* 1.7 rpg
11 C Alex Rivas SR 6’10 230: 7 mpg* .8 ppg* 1.7 rpg
The Bulls go about 7 or 8 deep, and will be welcoming center Jarrid Famous back from a slight knee injury. Also back is Gus Gilchrist, who missed some time with an ankle injury. Without them, Jarrid Famous and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick stepped their games up and were excellent post defenders and role players; the Bulls have a tall, deep group of forwards to complement the star scorer Dominique Jones (who is getting NBA looks) and lead guards Chris Howard and Anthony Crater.
South Florida does not shoot the three-ball, and that’s probably good, because they shoot them poorly. That might change with the return of Gilchrist. And for a team with such height, they have not been spectacular rebounders in conference play, or particularly good at stopping the other team from scoring. The Bulls have been winning with a few defensive stops and the power of the efficient Dominique Jones (and the team’s ability to get to the free throw line).
For more on the Bulls, let’s listen to Ken, a blogger from the Voodoo 5/ AstroBull site:
Chris Howard and Anthony Crater man the point most of the time for the Bulls, with Dominique Jones taking care of the ball every so often. Howard is the last holdover from the Robert McCullum era, and after coming back from two ACL tears, is finally coming into his own. Howard has done a good job this season distributing the ball. He will make a boneheaded pass once or twice a game, but most kids will. Howard does a really, really good at posting up smaller guards, and will hit a kick-out three if he is open.
Crater is quite possibly the quickest guard in USF history. He is starting to come into his own offensively, but his defense is what keeps him on the court. He creates havoc on opposing points, and you can count on him getting to one pass that no one should really have a chance at. His three-point shooting is lacking, but he is in there for defensive purposes and most teams know it.
Mike Mercer is an athletic 6’6 wing who gets his points driving to the basket and causing contact. He is also another guy who will get in your face defensively. He’s also good for one great dunk a night.
I think the reason we haven’t had much of a bench, is because we haven’t played with a healthy team all season. Once everyone is healthy, you should see Rivas, Fitzpatrick, and Crater as our three off the bench. If Ryan Kardok is in, something has gone horribly wrong.
Overall the three bigs along with Alex Rivas have brought stability to the post. The guys be more aggressive on the defensive end has been a huge plus since they know that there will be a quality guy coming in if they get in foul trouble.
With Gus [Gilchrist], the big thing was finding out that was anemic over offseason conditioning. An iron supplement later and he has improved 100%. He is out best shooter on the team, and with his range, it allows Jones or Mike Mercer to get to the basket a little easier with one of the teams bigs out on the top of the key. He’s starting to get back into the swing of things since his injury back in December, but it will be a work in progress the rest of the season
Jarrid Famous has been fantastic in he low post. He uses his athleticism to gain position on slower guys down low, and there have been a few times where he has led the fast break and throws it down. He does try to go out to 10-15 feet, but hasn’t had much success finding his jump shot. He is prone to get into some foul trouble, but it hasn’t been much of a problem with the added depth. He did sit out against our game Tuesday vs. Cincinnati, but the MRI showed no damage and Heath said he will be good to go Saturday.
Fitzpatrick has been by far the biggest surprise on the team this season. Most thought he was going to be an afterthought this season, but with Gilchrist getting hurt he was thrown into the fire and has held his own down low.
St. John’s (14-11, 4-9)
3 PG Malik Boothe JR 5’9 188: 4.2 ppg* 2.2 apg
23 G Paris Horne JR 6’3 191: 8.3 ppg* 2.9 rpg* 34.9% 3PT
1 G-F DJ Kennedy JR 6’5 215: 14.4 ppg* 6.6 rpg* 3.1 apg* 33% 3PT* 1.2 spg
2 G-F Anthony Mason Jr. SR 6’7 210: 6.5 ppg* 5.1 rpg* 1.0 bpg
5 F Sean Evans JR 6’8 255: 6.9 ppg* 5.9 rpg
12 G Dwight Hardy JR 6′2 187: 22.8 mpg* 10.8 ppg* 40% 3PT
32 F Justin Brownlee JR 6′7 232: 19.3 mpg* 6.8 ppg* 5.1 rpg
24 F Justin Burrell JR 6’8 235: 18.9 mpg* 6.8 ppg* 3.6 rpg* 51% FG* 36.4% 3PT
31 PG Malik Stith FR 5’11 185: 12.3 mpg* 1.8 ppg* 1.3 apg
15 F-C Dele Coker JR 6’10 253: 9.1 mpg* 2 ppg* 1.8 rpg* 1 bpg* 66.7% FG
As mentioned earlier, the status of Sean Evans and DJ Kennedy for Saturday’s game is uncertain. Supposedly, no punches were thrown, so they should be able to play. If not, I would expect some combination of Justin Burrell, Dele Coker, and possibly Dwight Hardy starting (I would bet more on the first two, given the size of the Bulls lineup).
Anthony Mason Jr.’s return to form has been slow. And as a whole, the team’s ability to shoot jump shots from the floor or from distance has been poor, with the exception of Justin Burrell and end-of-game looks from Dwight Hardy. The team needs to refocus and bring the energy and confidence they had at Notre Dame to South Florida.
Keys to the Game
Slow Dominique. Jones is obviously the team star. And he’s very hard to stop. But he can be slowed down with team defense and occasional traps. Marquette did a decent job getting him to give the ball up to other players, who shot poorly.
Defend the Drive (And Run Outs). While Dominique Jones can go off and score in bunches, the Bulls can be slowed down when the other players are made to take more than their share of shots under duress. Moreover, the team is much more dangerous when they get to take shots inside the arc and going to the basket. If St. John’s can defend the driving players, they will likely force guys like Anthony Crater, Chris Howard and Mike Mercer to take three-point shots (again, preferably under duress). Howard shoots 29% on the season but takes 39% of his shots from beyond the arc; Crater shoots 14% from the three but has taken 71% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Run Some Offense. The opportunities to run and score in transition won’t be plentiful. St. John’s has to run some offense, get shooters good looks (Horne in the corner, Hardy off of screens), and use the post play that they have in Burrell and Sean Evans (at times). The forwards for South Florida are big, but they can be put in foul trouble if the Red Storm players move actively, create mismatches, and aggressively attack when they have chances.
Post Position. St. John’s has to look for second chance points in this game, and rebound on defense to minimize second chance points. It’s one of the things the Bulls are mediocre at, and something that St. John’s is good at when they concentrate. Keeping the Bulls in check on the blocks – by keeping them out of preferred positions – will minimize their ability to do damage from in close, as well.
Defend Without Fouling. Note that one thing the Bulls do very well is get to the free throw line – they average 25 attempts from the line per game. Some of that is due to being ahead in the late stages of the game, but it’s still impressive.
Prediction: I predict a road loss, South Florida 67, St. John’s 59.
Transplanted New Yorker and now Midwesterner Peter a/k/a Pico writes for the East Coast Bias and the Church of Bracketology and for Johnny Jungle, doing the Calm Before the Storm posts. Pico is also on Twitter, @ECoastBias.