No Gimmie Game

A side effect of a newly configured league is that teams have to become familiar with the fresh faces. This isn't just for the programs entering a conference. The old guard must adapt as well. The Big East's move to 16 teams in the off-season forced Notre Dame to ready themselves for new blood.

One of those new entries into league was South Florida. Their transition has not been a smooth one as the Bulls currently sit at 0-10 in the Big East and 6-17 overall. Luckily for the Irish, who are desperate for a win in order to further their chances of making it into the Big East Tournament, South Florida is coming north to take on Notre Dame. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Joyce Center.

"We have to get out players familiar with them because maybe of all the teams coming into the league, USF might be the most foreign to our guys," head coach Mike Brey said. "They haven't seen them. We have to spend almost two days preparing for them."

Much has been made of the Irish's struggles late in ballgames. Notre Dame has lost all eight of their Big East contests by six points or less, including three in overtime. South Florida has been suffering from the same disease. The Bulls have not won since before Christmas, a 75-68 victory over Bethune Cookman on December 23rd. South Florida has lost seven of their 10 league games by six points or less. They've been competitive in the tough Big East. The Bulls have lost to Big East leader Villanova and second place West Virginia both by four points or less. But like the Irish, they cannot find ways to win the close contests.

"They are a talented group," Brey said. "I know they haven't had the best luck finishing games. But you can't feel sorry for them."

Senior James Holmes is South Florida's leading scorer. The 6-2 guard is averaging 17.3 points per game. That is good for seventh in the league. Melvin Buckley, a 6-7 junior swingman, is the team's second leading scorer at 13.4 PPG while McHugh Mattis, a 6-6 guard/forward, pulls down over seven rebounds a game while chipping in 10 points a contest.

These players are not the ones that scare Brey the most. It's senior Solomon Jones, a 6-10 forward/center that's dynamite on the glass. Jones is averaging just under 10 rebounds a game, which is second in the Big East to Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray. He is also second in the conference in blocked shots, smacking away over three attempts a contest. In addition to these great numbers, Jones is averaging 13 PPG. Brey was more than willing to heap praise upon this special player.

"I think Solomon Jones is an NBA player," Brey said. "I think he's going to be on an NBA roster. With that body and that length, he's got that look. If that body was playing at Syracuse, we'd be talking a lot about him. He's really impressive. I don't know if we have played against a guy like that who plays way above the rim and blocks shots. He's very good and overlooked in this whole thing."

One of the problems for South Florida is their ability to put the ball in the basket. The Bulls rank second to last in the Big East in scoring offense at 61 PPG. This deficiency could be exacerbated in Wednesday's contest because Notre Dame is second in the conference in scoring, racking up 76 points a game.


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