Listen/ See: Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, Sunshowers
Tip Off:12:00 PM, Saturday, February 20
Vs:. South Florida Bulls (16-9, 6-7)
Location: Sun Dome, Tampa, NY
Voodoo 5 - the Former Astro Bull
(photo by Red Storm Sports. Dominique Jones photo by St. Petersburg Times. Some stats by Statsheet.com)
It used to be you could go down to Tampa and end your losing streaks, get a nice win, see some sun in the middle of the winter. Two of the Red Storm's 10 road wins in Norm Roberts' stewardship happened - one in comeback fashion - at the Sun Dome.
But unlike the Bulls of old, South Florida is unlikely to cooperate with their role as the league's 98-pound weakling. In fact, South Florida is one of the best stories in the Big East, a team rising to competitiveness from nothing. A basketball team with very little tradition (and an 18-year drought from the NCAA tournament), only in the Big East because their up-and-coming football program was desirable.
Those Bulls are firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Bulls will be favored at home - that's what beating Virginia, Seton Hall, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, along with a road win over top-ten Georgetown - will do. Dominique Jones had been a lone star, carrying the team on his own.
Now, he has some help. Coach Stan Heath has cobbled together JUCOs, transfers, and unheralded players into a competitive unit with ballooning dreams. The Bulls hope to dispatch St. John's quickly and concentrate on the kind of streak that will get them on the national stage for once.
According to the NY Post, there will be some punishment for St. John's starters DJ Kennedy and Sean Evans for their role in a post-game altercation after the Seton Hall loss. I assume they will play, but one never knows how harsh a punishment might be announced with an athletic administration so concerned with the "culture" of the program (i.e., not looking thuggish).
Whatever the punishment is, and whoever plays, the game won't be easy. Can the Red Storm put a damper on South Florida's aspirations?
South Florida Pluses
Dominique Jones: Extremely efficient (115.1 offensive rating) and with a high usage rate (32.9% of possessions), Dominique Jones is something like unstoppable for the Bulls. Such a transcendent player can carry a team of role players to an NCAA tournament.
Getting to the Line: The Bulls do an excellent job of getting to the free throw line. Some of that is aided by playing ahead, but taking 25 foul shots per game, no matter what, is an admirable way of closing the gap between middle-of-the-pack offense and winning big games.
Building depth: The Bulls have found some good players to plug in when their stars are injured. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick held his own as a freshman when Gus Gilchrist was out; he'll be valuable off the bench to give the bigs a blow. Anthony Crater gives the Bulls another look when Chris Howard takes a rest (or alongside him). Alex Rivas can man some defensive minutes in the post. For once, the Bulls have options.
South Florida Minuses
Low Percentage Outside Shooting: While the players can get hot, the team is very bad at shooting the three. Gilchrist has been hot from outside, but has only played 10 games; I don't think he will maintain the 62.5% 3-point shooting. The team is shooting 23.9% from the three in conference.
A Bad Combination: The Bulls shoot an effective field goal percentage of 46.7%; their opponents shoot 49.9%. That's a bad combination. The true shooting percentage - which accounts for free throws made - is much, much closer (51% for the Bulls, 52.4% for opponents). But coupled with what looks like an unsustainable free throw percentage from opponents of 63%, this team could be due for a correction when a team doesn't foul them AND hits their free throws.
Unspectacular Rebounding: I would expect a team with this kind of size to rebound better on both ends - they are 8th in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage (35.4%) and 11th in defensive rebounding percentage (63.5%).
Read more pregame notes on Calm Before the Storm.
And make sure to take a look at 5 questions with Voodoo 5, posting shortly. My answers to their questions are on their Bulls Recon post.
Keys to the Game
Slow Dominique. Jones is obviously the team star. And he's very hard to stop. But he can be slowed down with team defense and occasional traps. Marquette did a decent job getting him to give the ball up to other players, who shot poorly.
Defend the Drive (And Run Outs). While Dominique Jones can go off and score in bunches, the Bulls can be slowed down when the other players are made to take more than their share of shots under duress. Moreover, the team is much more dangerous when they get to take shots inside the arc and going to the basket. If St. John's can defend the driving players, they will likely force guys like Anthony Crater, Chris Howard and Mike Mercer to take three-point shots (again, preferably under duress). Howard shoots 29% on the season but takes 39% of his shots from beyond the arc; Crater shoots 14% from the three but has taken 71% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Run Some Offense. The opportunities to run and score in transition won't be plentiful. St. John's has to run some offense, get shooters good looks (Horne in the corner, Hardy off of screens), and use the post play that they have in Burrell and Sean Evans (at times). The forwards for South Florida are big, but they can be put in foul trouble if the Red Storm players move actively, create mismatches, and aggressively attack when they have chances.
Post Position. St. John's has to look for second chance points in this game, and rebound on defense to minimize second chance points. It's one of the things the Bulls are mediocre at, and something that St. John's is good at when they concentrate. Keeping the Bulls in check on the blocks - by keeping them out of preferred positions - will minimize their ability to do damage from in close, as well.
Defend Without Fouling. Note that one thing the Bulls do very well is get to the free throw line - they average 25 attempts from the line per game. Some of that is due to being ahead in the late stages of the game, but it's still impressive.