It took a while but on Sunday, USF (18-11, 11-5) finally picked up their second Big East win over a team ranked in the Top 100 of the RPI, beating Cincinnati 46-45. Wednesday night offers the opportunity to not just pick up a Top 25 win but to also do it on the road, as the Bulls visit #18 Louisville (22-7, 10-6) with the Cardinals still entertaining hopes of a double-bye in next week's Big East Championship. One key reason for the Bulls' success this season has been freshman point guard Anthony Collins, who has been the steadying influence that was missing from last year's squad that won a paltry ten games.
Collins isn't a big scorer but he's done a solid job of distributing the basketball and he already ranks among the best defensive point guards in the Big East. How he matches up with Louisville's Peyton Siva will be something to watch, because even though Siva is one of the best athletes in the country his decision-making can be downright mystifying at times.
The same can be said for redshirt freshman Russ Smith, who comes off the bench and scores an average of 12.2 points per game and that number ranks second on the team. Smith, like Siva, is a fearless guard and his confidence can sometimes get him into trouble. If these two can play fast while avoiding the poor decisions that can haunt both them and their team, Louisville is a tough squad to beat. USF has just one player averaging double figures (big man Augustus Gilchrist - 10.0) but six average between 7.7 and 10.0 points per game.
Balance and defense are what's gotten the Bulls to this point and if they're to go dancing that's what they'll have to rely on. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick has proven to be a good option as a three/four, shooting 45.6% from the field and 42.1% from beyond the arc. In addition to him there's Ron Anderson Jr., a forward more adept at banging inside, and Arizona State transfer Victor Rudd Jr. is a versatile wing who can score despite low shooting percentages this season.
Kyle Kuric may be the player to watch for Louisville both Wednesday night and in tournament play, as his effectiveness has a major impact on the Cardinals' success. Kuric's averaging 13.1 points per game but over the last five games he's alternated good performances with ones that have left a lot to be desired. With Kuric scoring 17 in the 57-54 win over Pittsburgh does the trend continue? If so it could be a long night for both Kuric and the Cardinals. Chris Smith is another perimeter option averaging double figures while also ranking fourth on the team in rebounding.
Inside, freshman Chane Behanan has steadily become the Cardinals' best interior presence and that's with the improvement of Gorgui Dieng. Behanan may be undersized from a height standpoint as he plays the four at 6'6", but his physicality makes him a tough matchup for most opponents. He and Dieng will need help on the glass however, as USF is a slightly better rebounding team when looking at the margin as well as offensive rebounding numbers (Louisville grabs 13.3 per game but gives up that same amount).
Turnovers will be critical at the KFC Yum! Center, as USF has been the slightly worse team in regards to turnover rate and the Cardinals force their opponents into turnovers on 22.4% of their possessions according to statsheet.com's numbers. Simply put, live-ball turnovers will get the Bulls beat and it could get ugly if they happen too often.
The Bulls have won five of their last six and the nine-turnover outing against Cincinnati was a nice change when compared to the 18 they handed over in the loss at Syracuse. In the last six games USF has turned the ball over 15 times or more four times, so that should be the number to watch. Fifteen or lower they've got a shot at beating Louisville. Anything above that and the uphill climb becomes that much steeper.
Outside of the conference tournament action it's another good day to check out some bubble teams in need of wins, chief among them Cincinnati and Colorado State. The Bearcats, who are being weighed down by a non-conference strength of schedule that's embarrassing to be frank, has a great opportunity to impress as #7 Marquette rolls into town.
The Golden Eagles found a way to win at West Virginia on Friday night despite three starters (Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan and Darius Johnson-Odom) sitting for the first half and their best reserve (Todd Mayo) sitting for the second due to disciplinary issues. What that did was further bolster the resume of Jae Crowder, who is looking more and more like the best option for Big East Player of the Year.
As for the Rams they host #17 UNLV, and if they can get through this three-game stretch against the best in the Mountain West with a 2-1 record (beat UNM, lost at SDSU) that would do wonders to validate their already solid computer numbers. Pierce Hornung was outstanding in the win over New Mexico and he'll need to do more of the same for CSU to knock off the Runnin' Rebels.
Massachusetts is hanging on for dear life at this point but a win at #25 Temple would be quite the boost for Derek Kellogg's team, and in order to do so Chaz Williams will have to be the best guard on the floor. Miami visits NC State and the Hurricanes need to take care of business, especially with Reggie Johnson being reinstated after missing Sunday's game due to eligibility issues in regards to a relative possibly receiving improper benefits.
Shane Larkin and company played well in beating Florida State on Sunday, but a loss in Raleigh to a team that's gone downhill since their loss at Duke would hurt the Canes' chances of dancing. There aren't many chances left for teams to impress the selection committee, which means that those squads need to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.
Top 25 Games
7:00 PM Maryland at (6) North Carolina (ESPN)
7:00 PM (7) Marquette at Cincinnati (ESPN2)
8:00 PM Iowa State at (8) Missouri (ESPN3)
8:30 PM (11) Ohio State at Northwestern (BTN)
10:00 PM (17) UNLV at Colorado State (CBS SN)
7:00 PM South Florida at (18) Louisville (ESPN3)
10:00 PM (23) San Diego State at Boise State (The Mtn.)
7:00 PM Massachusetts at (25) Temple
NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM VMI vs Coastal Carolina*
2:00 PM Winthrop vs Campbell*
2:30 PM Jacksonville vs Belmont* (ESPN3)
6:00 PM High Point at UNC-Asheville
6:30 PM Penn State at Purdue (BTN)
7:00 PM La Salle at George Washington
7:00 PM Georgia Tech at Boston College (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Lafayette at Holy Cross
7:00 PM Marshall at East Carolina
7:00 PM Saint Joseph's at St. Bonaventure
7:00 PM Miami (OH) at Bowling Green
7:00 PM St. John's at Pittsburgh (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Fordham at Rhode Island
7:00 PM Dayton at Richmond
7:00 PM Buffalo at Akron
7:00 PM Central Michigan at Ball State
7:00 PM Navy at Bucknell
7:00 PM Ohio at Kent State (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Colgate at Lehigh
7:00 PM Eastern Kentucky vs Southeast Missouri State*
7:00 PM Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan
7:30 PM Army at American
7:30 PM Duquesne at Charlotte
8:00 PM Tulsa at UAB
8:00 PM Air Force at New Mexico (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM Tulane at Houston
8:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at Texas-Arlington
8:00 PM Lamar at Texas State
8:00 PM Auburn at Alabama (ESPN3)
8:00 PM UTSA at Central Arkansas
8:00 PM Liberty vs Charleston Southern*
8:00 PM Toledo at Northern Illinois
8:00 PM Nicholls State at Northwestern State
8:00 PM Stephen F. Austin at Sam Houston State
8:00 PM McNeese State at Southeastern Louisiana
8:00 PM SMU at Southern Miss
8:00 PM Mississippi State at South Carolina (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Nebraska Omaha at Western Illinois
8:05 PM SIU-Edwardsville at Chicago State
8:30 PM Lipscomb at Mercer (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Tennessee at LSU (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Miami (FL) at NC State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Iowa at Nebraska (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Oklahoma at Texas (ESPN2)
9:00 PM Jacksonville State vs Austin Peay*
9:00 PM Santa Clara vs Portland*
9:00 PM Rice at UTEP
10:00 PM UC Irvine at Long Beach State
10:05 PM Cal State Northridge at Cal State Fullerton
10:10 PM Longwood at Seattle