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NCAA Tournament, Step Two: Previewing South Florida

A trip to Spokane and the Sweet 16 is on the line when the Bears and the Bulls meet tonight at 6:30.

The Bulls raced past Texas Tech despite the home crowd - can they stop the Bears?
The Bulls raced past Texas Tech despite the home crowd - can they stop the Bears?

Here's where I try to scare you: This might be the best team in South Florida history. Of course, USF has been a D1 athletic program for barely more than a decade, so there hasn't been a ton of time to accumulate history - USF made the tournament once, in 2006, and fell to USC in the first round. Beating Texas Tech on Saturday is arguably the biggest win in school history.

Are they capable of notching an even bigger win? Well, playing in a typically rugged Big East, USF certainly had plenty of chances to prove their mettle. And what you see is a team that was very, very good at beating teams that they were more talented than. Conversely, the Bulls lost almost every game to the best teams on their schedule.

USF went an impressive 19-1 against teams outside of the RPI top 50. The lone loss was on the road to a solid Rutgers team. Conversely, the Bulls have had 12 games against teams in the RPI top 50 and are now 3-9. The wins came over Louisville, Syracuse and, now, Texas Tech.

Obviously, the RPI isn't the greatest measuring stick, but for our rough purposes it does the job. If you're looking for a reason to be afraid of USF, it's that they have managed to play the better teams on their schedule close on occasion. Twice the Bulls lost to Notre Dame by just single digits, and we all know what the Fighting Irish can do. I fully expect this to be a close game, in part because these seem to be two teams that specialize in them.

Players To Watch

Andrea and Andrell Smith: I may as well mention them at the same time, since I'm sure the broadcast crew will as well. USF's two best players are senior twins. They are both 5'8'' guards that average 29 minutes/game. Andrea is more of a scorer, Andrell more a distributor, but they combine for 30 points a game.

Both are ready and willing to launch 3 pointers, though they are more versatile than the gunners Cal saw against Fresno State. More on them below.

Inga Orekhova: An unconventional 6'2'' guard who shoots a ton of 3s. About 7 attempts per game, to be precise. Her size is such that even decent defense might not prevent her from getting her shots off. She actually plays more minutes than anybody else on the team, probably because she plays solid defense and doesn't turn the ball over. But seriously: don't let her shoot 3s. She made five against Texas Tech.

Everybody else: USF potentially has a huge rotation. Twelve different players average at least 8 minutes/game. That rotation has tightened, and only seven or eight players will see significant minutes tonight. That includes:
Akila McDonald, a 6'4'' post who does almost no scoring but can defend the paint and pull down some rebounds.
Alisa Jenkins, a freshman forward who loves to crash the offensive glass.
Courtney Williams, another freshman who is capable of scoring 10-15 points as well as putting up a goose egg, as most freshman occasionally do.

For a summary of what the Bulls try to do on both ends, go read this excellent article at USF's SBNation site Voodoo Five.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Sagarin Predictor: Cal by 4.

On to the chart. As always, letters in the far right column represent a statistical rankings advantage - the more letters, the greater the advantage.



Cal eFG% vs. USF eFG% Def

45.7 (78)

35.6 (34)


Cal eFG% Def vs. USF eFG%

37.7 (116)

42.6 (179)


Cal Off TOR% vs. USF Def TOR%

19.3 (24)

25.0 (65)


Cal Def. TOR% vs. USF Off TOR%

23.0 (146)

20.7 (73)


Cal RB% vs. USF RB%

60.7 (3)

54.5 (30)


Cal FT Rate Off vs. USF FT Rate Def

15.9 (87)

20.4 (272)


Cal FT Rate Def vs. USF FT Rate Off

17.5 (140)

14.6 (158)



.996 (17)

.783 (30)



.797 (57)

.907 (103)


The good news is that the Bears have a nearly across the board statistical advantage. The bad news is that, unlike Fresno State, there isn't a few areas in which the Bears should absolutely dominate. In some ways, USF is a poor man's version of Cal. The difference is the Bears are much better at making shots, while the Bulls can at times go very very cold.

The Bulls are going to want to make the Bears go cold themselves - if there's one thing they do very well, it's to prevent teams from getting off good shots. An occasional trapping full court press is a part of that, and plenty of physicality plays a role. They do tend to foul quite a bit in the process.

In some ways, their style looks favorable to the Bears. USF played man-to-man against Texas Tech, and they are willing to push the pace, two characteristics that typically play in Cal's favor. But we've seen plenty of other teams slow things down a throw a zone against the Bears when they otherwise wouldn't, so we'll see.

Keys to the Game

Stay aggressive, hit free throws: Like I mentioned above, the Bulls commit lots of fouls. And as we well know, the Bears aren't going to back away from any team that wants to play physical basketball. This game could get very rough, and the Bears could very well find themselves on the line frequently. There were games on the schedule where Cal didn't necessarily have to make many free throws to win. This one probably won't be one of them.

Dominate the boards: In some ways, USF reminds me of Cal if the Bears didn't have Gennifer Brandon: lots of good rebounders without a great rebounder. The Bulls will send most of their guards to the glass. And their season rebounding percentage is identical to UCLA, a team that outrebounded the Bears in the Pac-12 tournament. That cannot happen again. Rebounding is the pillar that makes the Bears what they are. It's time to exert superiority against a team that thinks they can challenge Cal at their specialty.

Brittany and Layshia: Outplay the twins: The Smiths are the point guard and shooting guard that make the Bulls go. But our Bears have a pretty good combination at the 1 and the 2. Andrell brings Layshia's scoring and Brittany's quick hands. Andrea brings Boyd's passing and Clarendon's solid defense. Our stars need to outperform their stars. What that means is keeping them from penetrating and dishing on defense, while getting past them and creating on offense.