Notre Dame will be in Florida this weekend but they won't be taking part in any Super Bowl festivities. The Irish travel to Tampa to take on South Florida (11-11, 2-6) on Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 PM. Notre Dame (18-4, 6-3) will be looking for their fourth straight Big East win and currently sit in fifth-place, two games back of Pittsburgh (7-1). They're just a half game back of second-place, which is a three-way tie between Marquette, Georgetown and Louisville at 6-2.
The Irish sit at 6-3 in conference play because of the dismantling of the Orange. The 103 points scored is the most this season for the best offense in the league. Playing without injured forward Rob Kurz, freshman Luke Harangody stepped up to the challenge. He scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, which are both career-highs. Sophomore Zach Hillesland was a stat sheet stuffer, contributing a career-high 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Freshman Tory Jackson also had a career-high with 19 points and dished out seven assists. It was a huge confidence booster to a team looking for a road identity.
This will be the second time Notre Dame and South Florida match-up in the past 13 days. In the first meeting back on January 21st at the Joyce Center, the Irish whipped the Bulls 82-58. South Florida led 24-21 in the first half before Notre Dame went on a 21-2 run to put the game out of reach. Kurz scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to pace the Irish. For South Florida, Kentrell Gransberry was dominant down low, totaling 23 rebounds and 11 rebounds. But Gransberry struggled from the charity stripe, shooting just 3-of-12 from the free throw line.
Double-doubles are nothing new for Gransberry. The 6-9, 270-pound center has seven of them this year in 15 games played. He averages a double-double on the season with 14 PPG and 10 rebounds a contest, which leads the Big East. The 23 points scored against Notre Dame was his second highest of the year. He's a space eater down low and the Irish, with or without Kurz, will have to account for his whereabouts.
The Bulls' leading scorer is Melvin Buckley. The 6-7 senior forward averages 15.9 PPG and he's hit the double digit mark in 16 straight contests. He struggled in the first meeting against the Irish. Buckley shot just 3-of-10 back on January 21st and he'll have to score the basketball to help his team keep up with the explosive Notre Dame offense. Beware of McHugh Mattis. The 6-6 senior is as athletic as they come and he averages 12 PPG to go along with 6.9 rebounds a contest. Mattis leads the Big East in blocked shots, swatting away four per game.
A potential problem for South Florida is their inconsistencies on offense. The Bulls are fourth to last in the league in scoring offense. However, St. John's is second to last in the same category and beat Notre Dame in New York City. Other weaknesses are turnover margin, where they're dead last in the Big East, and assist-to-turnover ratio, where they rank third to last in the conference.