SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (10-9, 1-5)
Time: 7 p.m.
Television: WHAS-11/SNY/ESPN Full Court
Location: USF Sun Dome: Tampa, Fla.
Favorite: Louisville by 7.5
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 20-3
Last Meeting: Louisville won 83-63 in Freedom Hall on 2/10/07
Best Win: South Florida 68, Florida State 67 (11/18)
Worst Loss: Buffalo 76, South Florida 69 (11/13)
Probable Starting Lineup
G Chris Howard.....11.3 ppg
G Jesus Verdejo....10.3 ppg
G Dominique Jones...15.3 ppg
C Kentrell Gransberry..16.8 ppg
F Orane Chin.....5.6 ppg
Talk of South Florida making the Big East Tournament for the first time reached unprecedented heights after the Bulls reeled off ten wins in 11 games at one point in their non-conference schedule, including a one-point road win over in-state rival Florida State. But three weeks into league play, USF has resumed its familiar role as the league's green-headed stepchild (much worse than red...and matches the jerseys). After an opening victory over Rutgers, the Bulls have dropped five straight league games, all by at least ten points.
If Stan Heath's club wants to be anywhere near the race to Madison Square Garden come the first week of March, then a major run needs to happen very soon. Although for right now I think he'd settle for being respectably competitive.
All talk concerning this year's South Florida basketball team begins and ends with center Kentrell Gransberry. The senior leads the team in scoring (16.8 ppg) and field goal percentage (53.4%), and leads the Big East in rebounding at 10.9 boards a game. He's recorded ten double-doubles so far this season, and has scored at least 20 points in all but one of USF's Big East games.
Gransberry's biggest flaw is the same as his team's: free-throw shooting. The Bulls are hitting just 66.2% from the stripe, and much of that is due to their leader, who is hitting just 52% and connected on only 2-of-11 tries last week against Seton Hall. The worse news for Bulls fans is that even though their team ranks second-to-last in the league in free-throw percentage, it ranks third in free-throw attempts. Gransberry and company know how to get to the line, they just haven't figured out how to get the job done once they're there.
Chris Howard is back after multiple ACL injuries, and he's playing like the point guard everyone thought he would be two years ago. The sophomore floor general is third in the conference in assists (5.4 apg) and is turning the ball over (3.0 tpg) less than he did during his freshman campaign. Howard is a decent shooter who will let it fly from deep on occasion, but he does most of his scoring damage on the break or in the lane. Despite losing a bit of quickness due to the knee injuries, he's still one of the more underrated guards in the league, and a certain point guard on the visiting team tonight might be wise to learn from his example.
Perhaps the most surprising freshman in a league chock-full of talented newcomers has been USF's Dominique Jones. The 6-4 guard hit the 30-point mark twice in the first four weeks of his collegiate career, and now leads the team in minutes played (34.0), while ranking second in scoring (15.3) and assists (3.1). Jones is South Florida's most dangerous threat from behind the arc, and he probably had some thoughts when seeing what another freshman - Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell - was able to do against the Louisville defense three days ago. He's not afraid to let it fly, and has knocked down 14 treys in six league games, including a five-for-five performance against Rutgers.
For every pleasant surprise there has to be a disappointment, and that disappointment for USF has been sophomore Solomon Bozeman. With the emergence of Jones, Bozeman has seen his playing time decrease drastically, and his scoring average dip from just under ten to 5.5. He hasn't hit double figures since the fourth game of the season, and has failed to score at all in three of South Florida's last seven games.
The third guard that Heath starts is another deep threat, junior Jesus Verdejo. He's hit 28-of-72 three-point attempts so far this season, but was 0-for-5 in two games against Louisville a year ago. Freshman Orane Chin rounds out the starting lineup, but has become more and more of a non-factor as the season has progressed. After scoring two points against Pittsburgh and Providence, he did not start and played only three minutes in South Florida's most recent game, a road loss to Seton Hall. Expect Chin to be back in the starting lineup tonight, but if he isn't it will likely be seldom-used forwards Mobolaji Ajayi or Mohamed Esseghir taking his place.
South Florida has the same frontcourt situation that Kentucky is dealing with: One dominant post player, but no capable forward to deflect attention away from him, or help on the defensive end. Derrick Caracter went off for 16 and 10 against USF last year, and don't be surprised if he or David Padgett put up similar numbers tonight, because Gransberry simply can't guard three people around the rim.
This is the third straight solid test for Louisville's guards. Howard, Jones and Verdejo all present different challenges, and if U of L doesn't handle them properly then a disaster of nearly Seton Hall proportions could unfold.
The Bulls are like Seton Hall in that they're not overly fond of playing defense, so this should be a good chance for U of L to come out and try and run its offense smoothly and effectively. The points off turnovers and long rebounds are going to come, but I'd like to see a large number of quality possessions where we actually run something and end up with an easy score around the basket or an open outside shot taken by a capable shooter. I'm also interested to see how Caracter, Clark and Sosa come out. They don't have any friends or family in Tampa that I know of, so there should be no excuses for selfish play or nerve-related mistakes.
Last year's turnaround started against the Bulls, and I think we'd all like to see a similar performance in this year's lone tilt.
CC Prediction: Louisville 78, South Florida 62
If U of L doesn't come out and play solid, inspired basketball for 40 minutes tonight, then feel free to go ahead and shift into stage one of mild panic mode.
I've got large expectations for this evening.