As tempting as it may be to rail against the ignominy of being in a play-in game, it would be far, far worse to be the losers of said game. And let's not even think about how it'd feel to be left out. Can you imagine the horror of being under-educated, wearing purple, and playing in the NIT?
Standing between our sturdy Golden Bears and a throwdown with the Temple Owls are the resurgent South Florida Bulls. Back in the Big Dance (sort of) for the first time in 20 years, you can be certain that they are fired up for this one.
In fact, just wait until you see the intense emotions on their faces as they...slowly walk the ball up the court and start paaaaaaassing it around and around and around the perimeter.
That's right. It's going to be one of _those_ games. South Florida is infamous for painfully slow. Per KenPom, their tempo is 342nd out of 345 Div I teams.
Even worse, the Bulls' calling card is their stifling defense. They're a top-20 defensive squad holding opposing teams to 56.9 points per game and 38.8 FG%.
Fortunately, as stingy as they are on defense, they're average to below average on offense, particularly with regards to 3-point shooting. And, they are particularly adept at turning the ball over, coughing it up on roughly 22% of their possessions.
It's a good thing we haven't struggled recently against tough defensive squads who have sporadic offense...
After the jump, personnel and matchups:
F Victor Rudd Jr.(Jr), 6'7, 207 lbs, 8.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg
F Augustus Gilchrist(Sr), 6'10, 235 lbs, 9.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg
C Ron Anderson Jr.(Sr), 6'8, 255 lbs, 7.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg
G Anthony Collins(Fr), 6'1, 180 lbs, 8.5 ppg, 5.3 apg
G Hugh Robertson(Sr), 6'5, 195 lbs, 6.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg
G Jawanza Poland(Jr), 6'4, 195 lbs, 8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick(Jr), 6'8, 230 lbs, 8.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Blake Nash(So), 6'0, 190 lbs, 3.7 ppg, 1.1 apg
G Shaun Noriega(Jr), 6'4, 195 lbs, 3.8 ppg, 37% 3PG
With the exception of their point guards, this is a rotation dominated by experienced upperclassmen. Coach Stan Heath returned 6 of his 7 top scorers this year. However, the dismissal of their incumbent point, Anthony Crater, for violating team rules has forced them to rely on true frosh Anthony Collins. He's very quick and a good defender. Like many youngsters, his outside shot is inconsistent (32% 3PG), but he's greatly improved throughout the course of the year and made the All Big East Rookie team. He can be turnover prone on occasion. For example, in the conference semis against Villanova, he had a team-high 17 points with 4 dimes...and 7 turnovers.
Their wing players, Rudd, Robertson, and Poland, and are all athletic slashers. They're most dangerous putting the ball on the floor and working their way into the paint. Rudd also fancies himself a 3-point shooter and will bomb away at a 38% clip. Robertson is tough, physical, and their best perimeter scorer.
All of them are extremely long and close out very well to the three-point line.
Their post players, Anderson, Gilchrist, and Fitzpatrick are the strength of the team. Anderson is their best defender and will make it very tough to score points in the paint.
Fitzpatrick is their bruising leading rebounder who is adept at powering his way to the basket.
Gilchrist is another great athlete who uses his versatile inside/outside game to lead them in scoring. He's also their leading shotblocker.
Off the bench, Nash is more of a combo guard than a true point. Noriega is their designated sharpshooter, but plays sparingly.
From one of the editors of the USF Voodoo5 blog:(HT GarySJ)
Augustus Gilchrist is a true center who likes to shoot from midrange, even though he shouldn't sometimes. In our patient half-court low-post game is working inside, he can pile up points without anyone really noticing.
You should know Victor Rudd Jr.; he transferred from Arizona State. He's a 6-7 wing who can handle the ball and get hot from long range.
Anthony Collins is a 6-1 freshman point guard, and I doubt there are many better in the country. He has completely reinvented our team. Recently he has become more of a create-your-own-shot scorer.
Jawanza Poland is an athletic swingman with an explosive first step, and a prolific dunker. He escaped an ironic legacy when we squeaked into the NCAAs despite his missed layup against Notre Dame in the Big East tourney.
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick is the kind of player UConn seems to have an endless supply of: a lithe 6-8 jumper who can hit from long range.
Ron Anderson Jr. (Kansas State transfer) is a tenacious rebounder who gets a lot of putback points.
Hugh Robertson is our best individual defender, but has come up with some big buckets when needed. I would call him the "glue guy" but everybody seems to play that role on this team.
Shaun Noriega is a 3-point specialist off the bench.
Blake Nash gives Collins the occasional rest at point guard. Is a good enough shooter to also fill in at the 2.
1) Win the turnover battle
This is not a flashback to a Tedford presser. With their stout defense, our best opportunity may be to attack their relatively inexperienced point guards for transition points. Simply trying to push the tempo won't be enough because this is an athletic team that gets back very well.
Conversely, we have to be careful to avoid giving them easy points off of turnovers. This is a team with long arms and active hands that defends very, very well. We'll need to shake off our recent struggles with ball security. One might almost suggest a significant change in the backup guard depth chart.
2) Be patient running the offense, but be ready for opportunities.
Similar to Colorado, South Florida will force you to run your offense past the first, 2nd, 3rd option, and so on. Recently, we've gotten frustrated when our halfcourt sets don't find open shots early in the sequence.
On the other hand, when open shots present themselves, we might need to break tendency from Monty's normal disciplined approach and shoot 'em when we've got 'em. Crabbe is going to have either a really big wing (Rudd, 6'7) or a tough one (Robertson) on him all night. He's got to stay aggressive and not let them take him completely out of the game.
3) Stay out of foul trouble
No great revelation here. In particular, Harper, Kravish, and Thurman will have to be very careful because their bigs like to attack the rim. Monty will probably start Jorge on Collins to see if he can disrupt their entire offense. Let's hope that Jorge comes out intense, but not out of control. South Florida doesn't do too many things well on offense, but they are deeper, bigger, and more athletic. Let's not think about what the game will look like if we have to play our reserves for extended minutes.
When we were hitting our stride mid-way through the year, this is the type of game that I'd feel confident we would win. But with our recent struggles on offense, particularly against big, physical teams, it becomes a toss-up. Perhaps more importantly, we'll need to stay focused defensively. With their slow tempo and vicious D, South Florida is exactly the wrong opponent to have to comeback on.
It's going to be tough sledding for our bigs to score inside. If our guards have another cold night from the outside, this one will be ugly.
Fortunately, we got all of that out of our system already, right?
Let's punch that ticket to Nashville. Go Bears!
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