Preview: South Florida

A closer look at today's matchup between the No. 7 Irish and the South Florida Bulls.

The answer: February, 2001.

The question? When's the last time a Notre Dame team won three consecutive Big East road games in the *same season.

Ten years later, Mike Brey's 11th Irish team will look to repeat that feat with a contest at the Sun Dome vs. South Florida today.

With Wednesday's win over Louisville, Brey's 7th-ranked Irish earned their 20th victory quicker than any other Notre Dame team in program history. They've won consecutive road outings (Pittsburgh and DePaul) after an 0-3 start in league road games, and now the Irish will take to the road for three straight beginning with today's noon matchup in Tampa.

The Bulls have lost three consecutive including a one-point defeat at the hands of Marquette on Wednesday. South Florida trailed by as many as 16 in the second half before storming back in the 59-58 defeat.

(*Notre Dame won three consecutive road league road games spanning two seasons: winning the regular season finale at St. John's in 2004 and taking two straight at Seton Hall and West Virginia in January 2005).

No. 7 Notre Dame at South Florida

Notre Dame (20-4/9-3) – Have won six straight with three road conference losses (Syracuse, Marquette, St. John's) and a loss in Louisville to Kentucky as the only blemishes through 24 games.

South Florida (8-17/2-10) – Dropped a 59-58 heartbreaker to Marquette in Tampa on Wednesday. The Bulls have lost three straight after defeating DePaul for their second conference win in late January. South Florida also beat Providence at Sun Dome, 79-72, in mid-January.

Tip-off: 12 (EST) ESPN3.com and DirecTV channels 639 and 640

Previous Meeting: The Irish took a pair from the Bulls in 2010, escaping the Sun Dome with a 74-73 victory in early January, then holding off South Florida in a South Bend rematch one month later, 65-62.

Series history: Notre Dame leads the series 6-1 including a 2-1 edge in games played in the Sun Dome. The teams have met three times in Tampa since February 2007 with the contests decided by 6 (SFLA win), 7, and 1-point, respectively.

Quality Wins:
Notre Dame (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John's, Cincinnati, Marquette, at Pittsburgh. Louisville)
South Florida: (Texas Tech and Virginia Commonwealth)

Quote to Note: "I would have to say that was probably the best four or five minutes in my career. That was just phenomenal. I was very glad I could go in and help my team. I felt a little lull, and I know that since we have such great scorers, they only needed a little time to get going." – Irish sophomore center Jack Cooley on the first-half spark he gave the team off the bench in Wednesday's overtime win over Louisville.

Point Spread: Notre Dame -6

Meet the Bulls

Stan Heath's fifth South Florida boasts one of the biggest frontcourt challenges of all Big East foes; literally.

Junior Augustus Gilchrist (6'10" 245) leads the team with 12.3 points and 6.6 boards per game while senior Jarrid Famous (6'11" 240) averages 8.7 and 5.7, respectively. Sophomore Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (6'8" 230) comes off the bench for 15 minutes per night to lend more size to the massive front line.

The turnover-prone Gilchrist has an affinity for the perimeter and it shows in his shooting percentage of 43.4% from the field including a 6-22 effort from long range on the season. At his best, he attacks the glass and finds easy buckets as he did in three double-double efforts this season, including a 25-point, 10-rebound outburst in a loss to Louisville.

Battling an ankle injury as of late, Famous has also played well in spurts, notably a 15-point, 14-board effort in a home win over Providence. Famous totaled 34 points and 14 boards in two contests vs. the Irish last season and he registered blocked four shots in the teams' first matchup, a 74-73 escape by the Irish at the Sun Dome.

South Florida has featured 12 different starting lineups this season, but whether he starts or finishes, sophomore guard Jawanza Poland (10.5 per night) will be in the mix.

6'6" junior Hugh Robertson (8.8 ppg) is the only Bulls player to start every game this season. Junior Anthony Crater will likely run the point for the hosts this afternoon.

Rarely easy: The Bulls are a hodgepodge of transfers, JuCo and otherwise, and it shows in a lack of offensive continuity. South Florida is the second-lowest scoring team in the conference; is a legitimately poor passing team (prone to turnovers) and simply has been unable to replace three-year star guard Dominique Jones, who departed a season early for the NBA.

South Florida ranks near the bottom of the league as three-point marksmen, shooting just 29.3 percent in conference games but they do take care of business at the free throw line, hitting a shade under 75 percent through 12 league contests, third in the Big East.

Notre Dame's four losses this season have occurred when the Irish totaled just 58, 58, 57, and 54 points, respectively. The recipe for beating the Irish on the road is simple: win the battle on the boards – of which the massive Bulls are capable – and force the Irish into mistakes early in the shot clock.

My gut – and the law of road averages – points to a tough Irish loss in always challenging Tampa…but this senior-laden group has continually proven critics wrong in 2011. Allowing that the sins of the past may indeed remain as such, I'll grant a slight edge to the new and improved Notre Dame program:

Prediction: Notre Dame 67 South Florida 62

Season Predictions (vs. major conference opponents): 13-5; 11-6-1 against the spread.


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