Notre Dame welcomes in South Florida (10-9, 1-3) to South Bend on Sunday. Tip-off is at 1:00 PM. The Irish are coming off a 102-87 loss to Villanova in Philadelphia. The 102 points is the most allowed by them this year and the most ever under head coach Mike Brey in a regulation game. Lehigh scored 87 back in late November. The defeat sent Notre Dame to 15-3 on the season and 3-2 in the Big East, which is two full games behind No. 6 Pittsburgh in the league race.
Why is this game so important? With the road struggles the Irish have been experiencing, it's critical to win at home against inferior competition. Also, after the contest with the Bulls, Notre Dame will play four of the next five games on the road. Trips to St. John's, Syracuse, South Florida and DePaul await the Irish. The bonus is that besides the Orange, the other three teams are a combined 5-10 in conference play. But nothing is a given on the road and Sunday's game against the Bulls would get Notre Dame back on track and some confidence before the crucial stretch.
Despite being ranked 13th in the league in scoring defense, the Irish still are having no problems putting the ball through the hoop. They are first in the Big East in scoring offense and three-point percentage shooting. Led by Russell Carter's 18 PPG, which is good for third in the league, the Notre Dame attack is also unselfish. They're second in the conference in assists at 18 per contest. Junior forward Rob Kurz's 8.7 rebounds a game spearheads the Irish being third in the league in rebounding margin.
The opponent on Sunday has been going through some difficulties. South Florida is 1-4 in the league and losers of eight of their past 11 games. In all of the four conference defeats, the Bulls have lost by 11 points or more. In the Big East, they're third to last in scoring offense. To keep up with the explosive Irish, usually teams have to be capable of putting a big number up on the scoreboard. Also, South Florida is dead last in turnover margin, never a good thing when eyeing an upset on the road against a ranked opponent.
The Bulls do have a few bright spots. Melvin Buckley, a 6-7 senior forward, is eighth in the conference in scoring at 16 PPG. He's scored in double figures in all but two games this season. Buckley's high this season was 29 points, achieved twice in a loss to Buffalo and a win against Stetson. He's compliment nicely by Kentrell Gransberry down low. The 6-9 junior center averages a double-double with 14 PPG and 10.6 rebounds a contest, which is tops in the league. Gransberry, who missed the first seven games of the season, has totaled five double-doubles on the year and should be a challenge for Kurz and Luke Harangody in the paint. Also watch out for Mattis McHugh. The 6-6 senior forward averages 12 PPG but leads the Big East in blocked shots with four a contest. South Florida is third in the conference as a team in blocked shots.