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Game Preview*: South Florida at #14 Georgetown

Hi, my name is OverTheHilltop, and you might remember me from such previous blog posts as Gregg Doyel is an HDC, and Jerrelle Benimon: The Silent Killer. Your blog hosts/Ponzi scheme operators/cult leaders/lunch documenters have invited me to post my thoughts here about upcoming Georgetown games. Worst mistake they'll ever make. But who can turn down the opportunity to preview a sure to be sparsely attended Saturday morning showdown with the Hoyas' traditional arch-rival, the South Florida Bulls? Before you expel Flamin' Hot Cheeto crumbs through your nose, check the standings: the Bulls enter Saturday tied with your beloved Blue and Gray in the loss column. So let's get you ready for Saturday's action.

*Got a clever/un-clever/irritating name for this feature? Suggest one below.

When & Where. Saturday, Feb. 4, 11 a.m. EST, Verizon Center.

TV/Internet/Radio. ESPNU/ESPN3/ESPN980.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. For those who think that the Big East will absorb Houston, UCF, and SMU while raising the hoops fortunes of those schools (do these people exist outside of the Marinatto house?), please consider USF. In six seasons as part of the Big East, the Bulls have won more than 5 conference games just once, a 9-9 finish two years ago fueled by Dominique Jones's tattoos. They have made no NCAA appearances during that time and lost their only NIT game.

This year, expectations were barely higher in Tampa, and a scuffling 6-6 start against non-conference competition portended little better. But then a 17-point road win at Villanova caught some attention, and suddenly a USF squad more accustomed to looking up at the .500 line has drifted up the conference standings. The Bulls' record deserves a small asterisk, as the wins have come against six of the bottom seven teams in the conference. Still, wins are wins in the Big East, and a half-dozen of them means that the Hoyas can't afford to overlook the Bulls Saturday.

Bulls to Know. South Florida's strength is in its front court, which is anchored yet again by senior big man Gus Gilchrist (10.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg), who's in his fourth year of moderate-volume, low-efficiency production. At 6'10", 245 lbs., Gilchrist is massive, but like the similarly large Yancy Gates, occasionally fancies himself more of a mid-range jump shooter than a banger. Gilchrist was the team's only double-digit scorer from last year, a distinction in which he's joined this year by junior guard Jawanza Poland (no relation) (10.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg), a 6'4" athlete who makes hay slashing to the hoop but struggles from deep. Between these two are a trio of forwards: Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (8.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, team-high 46.3 3FG%) crashes the boards and occasionally strokes the ball from deep; Ron Anderson, Jr. (8.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg) cleans up the offensive glass and provides defensive grit; and Victor Rudd (9.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is a rangy wing scorer who puts up threes more frequently but less accurately than Fitzpatrick. Running the show is freshman point guard Anthony Collins (6.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.1 TO pg, 1.8 stl pg), a pleasant surprise for coach Stan Heath's club, which otherwise lacks point guard depth.

When South Florida Has the Ball.

  • Bulls' strength: offensive rebounding. A front-court heavy lineup should dominate the boards, and USF plays the role, grabbing nearly 39 percent of its own misses in Big East play, the fourth-best mark in the conference. 6'8", 255-lb. bruiser Anderson is a particular beast, snagging nearly three Bull bricks per game, while Gilchrist grabs nearly two. Georgetown largely contained Pitt's even more voracious offensive rebounding last week (unfortunately neglecting most other defensive details in the process). The Hoyas will need to redouble their rebounding effort on Saturday.
  • Hoyas' strength: zone defense. The Hoyas' zone shut down Connecticut and then some Wednesday night, and has been an encouraging development throughout the season. The Bulls, who shoot below 33 percent from three (with some improvement in conference play), don't figure to test the Hoya zone (though Fitzpatrick merits checking). Also, the Bulls make turnovers on 22 percent of possessions, the fourth-worst mark in the conference: the long Hoya zone may exacerbate that trend.
  • Looming question: foul trouble? The Bulls haven't exactly paraded to the line, taking fewer than 18 free throws per game. But once at the stripe, they have made foul shots at a 76 percent clip in conference play, the best mark in the Big East. (Anderson and Fitzpatrick, who make 62 and 53 percent of their foul shots, respectively, are the exceptions.) And the Hoyas have been a bit grabby recently, committing 18 fouls in three of their past four games. A few extra whistles against Georgetown could lead to critical, easy South Florida points Saturday.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Hoyas' strength: ball movement. South Florida won't put much pressure on Georgetown Saturday, as the Bulls force just 11.5 turnovers per game, one of the worst rates in the conference. And, even with a long front line, the Bulls have a porous interior defense, yielding nearly 47 percent of their opponents' shots inside the arc. While Georgetown has suffered offensive woes throughout conference play, patiently running its sets through Henry Sims in the high post and, when USF goes zone, through Otto Porter, should yield plenty of open shots. You know, provided Sims can stop turning the ball over.
  • Bulls' strength: defensive rebounding. USF's work on the glass carries over to the defensive side of the ball, where the Bulls post the second-best defensive rebound rate in the conference. Fitzpatrick (113 defensive rebounds), senior guard Hugh Robertson (72), and Rudd (71) lead a team effort.
  • Looming question: three-point shooting? South Florida has tightened up defensively around the three-pint arc as the season has progressed. The Hoyas have been erratic from three, as Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark have alternated hot shooting nights with cold stretches, and Markel Starks has faded after burying four treys at Louisville. Finding one hot hand outside could open up looks inside.

Transition. Press. South Florida relies on its bigs, and Heath lately has favored a seven-man rotation, both of which contribute to the Bulls' methodical pace, the fourth-slowest in the country. The Hoyas aren't exactly gazelles, ranking in the bottom half of the conference and the nation in pace. But they've succeeded in faster-paced games this year (Memphis, to a lesser degree DePaul), and may be able to generate turnovers, and easy points, by deploying their press. Marquette beat South Florida by 20 in large part by outrunning the Bulls, as can be seen here, or here.

Prediction. Playing South Florida always seems like a lose-lose proposition: there's the prospect of an upset loss (2006 in the Sun Dome, 2010 in Verizon), and the wins are often too close for comfort (a 3-point escape at home in 2006, a 6-point win last year). The match-up is particularly unsavory this year, given the Bulls' improvement. But they have yet to prove that they can do it against against an above-average squad, dropping double-digit decisions to Notre Dame and Marquette, and also barely losing to Connecticut. Regardless of outcome, Saturday's game won't be easy on the eyes: South Florida is a middling-at-best offensive squad, while Georgetown has suffered prolonged scoring droughts throughout the season. The Hoyas have become accustomed to winning ugly recently; expect more of the same Saturday. Georgetown 56, South Florida 49.