St. John's vs South Florida preview: Red Storm can't overlook struggling USF

Anthony Collins, Javontae Hawkins, and the South Florida Bulls look for their second Big East win. - USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls are not very good, but St. John's still has to handle their business.

Let's not dance around it; the South Florida Bulls are 10-15, 1-12 in the Big East, and not a very good basketball team. Stan Heath's club has lost eight straight games, and have won one league game in a three-point home win over Georgetown. The Bulls scored 79 points... in TWO games against Louisville. Five times in Big East play, the Bulls have scored under 50 points.

Game Information
Tip Off: 7:00 PM Eastern
Vs. South Florida Bulls
(10-15, 1-12 Big East; coach, Stan Heath)
Carnesecca Arena, New York, NY
(capacity: 6,008)
TV: SNY |
ESPN3
Radio: Bloomberg 1130
Announcers: Quint Kessenich and John Celestand

St. John's should handle their business with diligent play from the likes of Phil Greene IV - and with coach Steve Lavin's return from family time out west after the passing of his father.

"Should".

But the Bulls play a style that plays to the Johnnies' weaknesses - zone defense with length. The Red Storm could be up for a surprisingly tough challenge.

Both teams are coming off of losses to Louisville - the Bulls latest loss to the Cardinals was on Sunday in a 59-41 loss, the eighth straight loss for Stan Heath's Bulls. Both have injuries - St. John's is without point guard Jamal Branch, while the Bulls are without shooter Shaun Noriega and wing Musa Abdul-Aleem.

The Johnnies need to handle business and move on to four much more challenging games. But any team can catch a favored squad slipping and take the W, even in Queens.

[For more on USF, check out Voodoo Five.]

Scouting South Florida Bulls

The University of South Florida hoops team has some problems.

The problem with USF is rebounding. The team plays a freshman wing, a scoring wing, a mediocre transfer from Florida International, a seven-foot project, and a sizeable big man who shoots many threes. That sounds like depth on paper, but when the paper becomes reality, South Florida struggles to end possessions with a defensive rebounds

The problem with USF is scoring talent - despite Victor Rudd's dalliance with the NBA, they don't have any scoring talent. The 88 points per 100 possessions that the Bulls score in Big East play is truly indicative of how bad they are. That number would be the worst in-conference offensive efficiency mark by any team in the eight years since the Bulls joined; 100 points per possession, or scoring about every other trip down the floor, is adequate.

The problem with USF is that they generally make teams that play them look like Louisville. Louisville actually played them (twice!) and it was animal abuse. The Bulls scored 38 points in the first game (58 points per 100 possessions) and on Sunday, held them to 41 points, (69 points per 100 possessions).

The Bulls do hold on to the ball decently with star point guard Anthony Collins, so if the Johnnies fall behind, they may find that USF can get through their pressure with some skill. And they do force turnovers, and defend without fouling, playing zone.

The problem with USF is that they are awful. The worst two-point shooting (42%) team is also the worst three-point shooting team (26%); and the Bulls take about 40% of their shots from beyond the arc.

Long run outs could be available, which is good for keeping the Carnesecca crowd engaged; the Bulls also play the slowest pace in the conference, taking up 59 possessions per game.

Victor Rudd loves to run and score, taking 24% of the team's shots; but generally takes bad shots in his thirst for points; big man Toarlyn Fitzpatrick takes more of his shots outside the arc; Anthony Collins is a great passer, mediocre scorer. Freshman slasher Javontae Hawkins is getting more time, and has been more capable than most of the other players in terms of efficiency.

St. John's will need to be patient, and to hit the open shots quickly in the available window... while not playing down to their opponent.

Keys to the Game

Don't take them for granted.

St. John's has to have a win to stay in the NCAA Bubble conversation. Playing down to and losing to the worst team in the league is no way to keep hope alive. The Johnnies have to know the personnel, defend well, and find points where they can - and not let Victor Rudd explode all over the Carnesecca floor.

No second chances

Just because the Bulls are bad at rebounding, doesn't mean they won't try to extend possessions. Chris Obekpa and Christian Jones, among others, could put up solid rebounding numbers and keep developing players like Kore White and Zach LeDay off the glass. Watch for long rebounds.

More zone

The smart play is to face St. John's in the zone; St. John's' struggles to move the ball and find gaps. A slow start might give the woeful Bulls hope. Jakarr Sampson, Marc-Antoine Bourgault, and D`Angelo Harrison have to strike from the open spots when the opportunity comes; the Bulls can be annoying on defense.

Can the Johnnies control the tempo?

The Bulls want to play slow, but the Red Storm want to attack with transition buckets. Can Greene, Harrison, and Sir`Dominic Pointer get out in space, or will the team be forced muddle in the halfcourt?

Prediction: St. John's should handle them, 63-51.

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