The Eye Test: South Florida Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2012

Danny Connors is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Syracuse-South Florida game on Wednesday night.

South Florida didn’t have an ideal start to its season. The Bulls went 7-6 in its non-conference slate with losses to Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and Penn State. The NCAA tournament seemed like an unlikely destination for the program. Now that Jawanza Poland, Anthony Collins and Augustus Gilchrist are all back, this squad has a different feel and look. South Florida doesn’t have a decisive resume-building win, but they’ve been beating up on the lower half of the Big East. After a tough 56-48 loss against Syracuse, the Bulls are tied in fourth place with Georgetown with a 10-5 Big East record.

Against first-place Syracuse, USF looked like a Tournament team. The Bulls opened the game on a 20-9 run. They kept SU out of transition and were hitting shots. To USF’s advantage, the game had no flow and the usually boisterous crowd was quiet. But then Syracuse showed some “spurtability” in the form of a 26-0 run over 12 minutes. The momentum that USF had to start the game quickly disappeared. It seemed as if they would be the next team to leave the Carrier Dome with a blowout loss.

Stan Heath Has His South Florida Squad In The Thick Of The NCAA Bubble Talk (AP)

The Bulls showed toughness, though. They cut the lead to one with six minutes left in the game. Despite not scoring for 11:52, USF almost beat Syracuse and head coach Stan Heath thinks that proves something. “You play the number two team on their home floor and you’re right there with them, I think that tells you a little bit about our team,” he said. Since December 28, Heath’s squad is one of just four teams in the country that hasn’t lost to an unranked team, which not coincidentally is when his roster was finally fully healed. The Bulls face Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia to end the season, so they have more chances to bolster their NCAA resume.

Here’s what you need to know about this USF team as they try to make their case for the tournament:

  • Anthony Collins is a stud – The freshman point guard is the floor leader for the Bulls. He is poised with the ball and never seems to get rattled. Against Syracuse, he finished with 12 points and 10 assists. Although he turned the ball over eight times, the turnovers didn’t directly lead to fast breaks. Collins has to make an occasional high-risk play because he’s the only playmaker on his team. He routinely split the Orange zone and made plays for himself (difficult floaters) or for his teammates. “He’s getting better and better,” Heath said. “He has a knack of getting in there and just freezing you and if you want to jump at it, he’ll find a way to pass it too.”

    Anthony Collins Is A Terrific Playmaker For The Bulls (AP)

  • The Bulls lock down on defense – USF played some zone and some man-to-man. Both defenses were effective. Victor Rudd Jr., Hugh Robertson, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Jawanza Poland are lengthy, athletic wings who can defend the perimeter. They forced Syracuse’s leading scorer Kris Joseph into a 5-for-17 shooting night. Against SU, the Bulls clogged the middle and were strong with their help-side defense. The Orange had few uncontested looks in the half-court because of the long and active USF defenders. The Bulls have held 24 consecutive opponents to under 30 points in the first half, which goes to show its affinity for defense. In the last five games, Syracuse was the only USF opponent who scored more than 51 points. South Florida is a strong defensive team that has a contain-and-contest mentality.
  • Offense? Not so much – Despite a strong defense, the Bulls have struggled to win because of their inability to score efficiently. The Bulls score a notch above 60 points per game, good for 309th in the country. That number can be devoted to its slow and methodical pace, but also to its horrific shooting numbers and lack of direction offensively. Against the Syracuse zone, there was ball movement, but it wasn’t quick enough to concern the defense. Often, players would take a couple dribbles and hold the ball before looking to make another pass or shoot. In the high-post, Ron Anderson Jr. just wasn’t a threat. Syracuse knew he was only looking to pass, so he couldn’t draw Fab Melo out from under the basket. It doesn’t help that on the year USF is shooting just 32 percent from distance, so there isn’t much spacing on the floor. Augustus Gilchrist is a threat in the post, but he’s only shooting 40%, which for a big man, is weak.

So is this a team that could pull off an upset or two come March? If they can shoot better, the answer is “yes.” They’ve proved they can play with the best college basketball has to offer, but have yet to show they can beat the good teams. As of now, their best wins are against Pitt and Seton Hall. There is still work to be done for the Bulls, but Heath was pleased with what his squad showed against Syracuse. “We’re not out of the top teams in the country’s league. We can battle everybody,” he said, “hopefully that earned us a little respect.”

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