First things first. USF has a player called Jawanza Poland. Is it Mike Vick moonlighting for the Bulls under another one of his country-themed fake names? Most likely, yes!
Secondly, to find out more about Mr. Poland and his team of non-Chicago Bulls, we talked with Jamie DeVriend of the DeVriend Institute over at SBNation USF site "Voodoo Five." They can tell us everything we need to know about a team that none of us knew anything about before Sunday. Cal hasn't played USF in over a decade. Last time out, they beat us by 20 back in December of 2001 (aka pre-Tedford!). ESPN doesn't have a box score for that game, but they do have a few tantalizing notes about it. Things like:
R. Forehan-Kelly 14 Pts, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Stl
A few blasts from the past there. Dennis "The Sheriff" Gates! Jamal "One Year Wonder" Sampson. Joe "Easily The Best Shipp Brother" Shipp!
In that game, Cal shot 34% from the field, 27% from 3s and hit only 53% of its free throws. Ouch! I was still in college, Justin Timberlake was still in NSync, and the Oakland A's were a good baseball team. Double ouch! USF is known for being a defensively focused team, so we might see a repeat of those numbers (except for the A's thing, we know they aren't going to be good).
To find out more about the Bulls, check out Voodoo Five's answers after the jump. Many thanks to them for answering our questions. Here are our answers to their questions! And don't forget to join the CGB Tourney Pick Em! GO BEARS!1. Tell us a little about your style of play offensively and defensively.
USF is one of the slowest paced teams in the country. They run the shot clock down and then try to create something in the last 10-15 seconds. A lot depends on freshman point guard Anthony Collins - not only is he the only real ball distributor, but he's one of the few people on the team who can get into the lane and create his own shot. As such, it's a pretty inconsistent offense and they are prone to long stretches without scoring many points (or any points). While no one averaged double figures on the season, there are 4-5 players capable of leading the team in scoring on a given night.
Victor Rudd Jr. and Jawanza Poland (off the bench) are the primary wing players, and they sometimes sneak behind defenses for alley-oops from Collins. They and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick are the 3-point shooters, although only Fitzpatrick is a dangerous 3-point threat from out there. Ron Anderson Jr. is the primary post. Gus Gilchrist is supposed to be a post player, but he isn't really a Big East-style big. He'd rather face you up and shoot over you, or make a bunch of unnecessary pump fakes before going up around the rim. As you note below, there is a turnover problem.
On defense, the Bulls primarily play man, although they will mix in some zone and matchup zone from time to time. They are relentless defenders that close quickly on shooters and harass as many shots as they can. They overplay a lot in man (more on that in a minute) but they don't get into as much foul trouble as you would think. Hugh Robertson is the lockdown defender, and Collins will try to steal the ball on the perimeter if he gets a chance, so you have to watch for that too. Also the Bulls rebound very well defensively, Anderson in particular.
2. The Stan Heath era: what do you think so far?
We've graded Stan Heath on a curve for several years. Before I got bored and start mixing up the tagline to our blog, it was "The Toughest Blog In America" for a long time, which refers to a Dick Vitale quote about how the USF job was the toughest one in America. When he got here in 2007, Heath didn't have a natural recruiting base -- Florida is not nearly as deep in high school basketball as it is in football. The facilities were pathetic -- sometimes the team had to practice in the Campus Recreation Center if the Sun Dome, our home arena, was being used for something else. Football had taken over as the major sport on campus. Students didn't care. The community didn't care. And with all that against you, add 16-18 games a year in the toughest basketball conference in the country. It was a thankless job and we were lucky to have someone like Heath fall into our laps.
USF won 20 games two years ago with Dominique Jones and a bunch of spare parts, and reached the NIT. Last season was a total disaster, with Jones off to the NBA and a total train wreck at point guard (Anthony Crater) that shut the whole offense down. Crater got himself kicked off the team, which might be the biggest addition-by-subtraction move I can remember for the USF basketball program because it meant Collins got a lot of playing time as soon as he was healthy in December.
This year was a complete surprise. We would have been happy with a winning record and maybe sneaking into postseason play of some kind. It didn't dawn on anyone that this could be an NCAA Tournament team (our first since 1992) until the last couple weeks of the regular season. Heath was named Big East coach of the year, and deservedly so. With this season behind Heath, a new practice facility open, the Sun Dome reopening after renovations forced them off campus this season, and the best recruiting class in years coming in, there might finally be some forward momentum for this program. It's been a long time coming.
3. Fill the blank: If Cal stops _________, the Bulls are in trouble.
I'll say Anthony Collins. If he can't get into the paint and create, and he's being harassed into turnovers, I don't think USF can ugly up the game enough to give themselves a chance to win.
[Twist: I screwed up the numbering here. Not their fault! Whoops.]
5. What makes USF's defense so effective, and what have teams that saw success scoring against the Bulls done?
I covered what makes them so good a bit earlier -- it's their aggressiveness. They actually save their strength on offense so they can come down the court and play such tough defense. On the other hand, though, that's where they can be broken. It's almost impossible to get them to play at your tempo, so it takes crisp ball movement and some creativity on offense to counteract them. Our worst Big East matchup was Georgetown because they run the Princeton offense with all kinds of back cuts and extra movement. USF overplays a lot on defense, so the Hoyas exposed them and got a lot of easy shots.
The other way to beat them are to have one guy go all NBA Jam and make about a million shots, like LaDontae Henton did the first time USF played Providence. Fortunately USF survived that one.
6. The Bulls have a turnover problem. What's the issue, and what kind of defenses tend to make the problem worse?
Not enough people who can handle the ball, especially down low. None of the bigs have particularly good hands. We don't throw the ball accurately into the post every time. Plus you have a true freshman point guard who's playing in the toughest defensive conference in America. So he's bound to make his share of mistakes. You'd think pressure defenses would cause the most problems for USF, but the Bulls actually handled that fairly well against Louisville a couple of weeks ago. I think it's zone defenses that give them the most trouble, like Syracuse's 2-3 zone where there just aren't many safe places to pass the ball.
7. What do you think about being in the play-in game? Did you get screwed or are you happy just to be dancing?
The Bulls only have themselves to blame (and maybe Colorado and St. Bonaventure) for being in the play-in game. They had a 3-point lead and the ball with 40 seconds left in the Big East tournament against Notre Dame and couldn't close it out. They had West Virginia right where they wanted them in the home finale, and couldn't win that one either. They lost a couple of close games in non-conference away from home, like Southern Miss and Penn State.
But this is USF's first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years. I was in seventh grade the last time the Bulls made the field, and at that point I wasn't totally sure of what people did at college. So we're not going to complain very much.
8. What sort of teams gave you trouble this year?
Obscenely talented teams like Kansas, for one. Offensively creative teams like Georgetown. Talented, tenacious teams like Marquette. Oh, and Auburn apparently. I was glad that game was right before Christmas because it gave me a great excuse to knock back a lot of spiced rum with a dash of egg nog.