Bulls' gaining confidence in Big East play

After an easy win at DePaul, the Bulls have won five of six games, and are gaining more confidence with every conference game played. The Bulls' defense remains solid, allowing fewer than 58 points a game, the rebounding has gotten better, and their getting more consistency on the offensive end.

South Florida was selected to finish 14th in the Big East Conference preseason poll, probably by the same people who said the Edsel would be the American car of the future.

After a slow start, the Bulls have won five of their last six games, the latest being an easy victory over an improved DePaul team on Jan. 22.

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim made note of the progress the Bulls have made in the Jan. 16 Big East coaches' conference call.

"It's a little early to start making judgments (about the Big East power structure)," he said. "But there are teams (ranked) at the bottom of the league that everybody thought weren't good ... but they are good. South Florida can beat you."

Teams first started taking note when the Bulls beat Seton Hall, then ranked No. 24. It was the first time they had beaten a ranked team in almost two years.

Now there have to be thoughts of holding it together and having a shot at postseason play.

"Ever since the season began, I said getting a little confidence would be a great thing," Heath said. "I do believe we are getting better. Our defense is better. Our rebounding is better. We're going in the right direction. It always seems to come down to us being more consistent on the offensive end.

"We've had some opportunities, but couldn't cash in on some of them. It's a long season, but we're battling. I like the effort."

The effort against DePaul in the latest game was a perfect example.

The Bulls shot 56 percent and held DePaul to 33.6 percent. South Florida led in rebounding, 38-24.

 

NOTES, QUOTES

<Headline>Bulls surpass win totals from last season</Headline>

--With two victories in the last week, the Bulls went to 12-8 and 5-2 in Big East play, surpassing both their overall (10) and conference (three) win totals from last season through just 20 games.

--The Bulls' defense remains solid, allowing fewer than 58 points a game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 26-5 -- The margin by which South Florida's bench outscored St. John's in pulling out a victory.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are definitely some familiar-sounding elite teams in the Big East. I do think there's a wide-open area maybe sixth through the rest of the way. Things could happen there. If you can win some games, you can jump in there. But you can't look past anyone in the Big East. That will get you beat." -- USF Coach Stan Heath on the opportunities before his improving team.

 

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Marquette, Jan. 24

KEY MATCHUPS: This is a tough game for an up-and-coming team, on the road against a Marquette team that has won four in a row and has two of the best players in the conference in Darius-Crowder Odom and Jae Crowder. Odom averages 18.2 points and Crowder 16.3 a game. What's more, the two are shooting a combined 48 percent. It will be very tough for a freshman point guard like Anthony Collins.

--vs. Providence, Jan. 29

KEY MATCHUPS: Solid chance to add to the credentials here against a struggling Providence team that hasn't shown the improvement the Bulls have. Providence has lost six of seven and has only one road victory. The Friars do play up-tempo and have a couple of offensive forces in Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton, averaging 16 and 14 points, respectively.

FUTURES MARKET: Junior Victor Rudd is helping turn South Florida around. Against St. John's he put on a spectacular show, turning a scoreless first half into a 24-point second half.

"That was pretty impressive," coach Stan Heath said of Rudd in the Tampa Tribune. "And some pretty impressive plays."

Rudd was 5-for-7 from 3-point range, added a tip dunk on a rebound and then came the highlight, going over God's Gift Achiuwas for a one-handed slam that sent the Red Storm forward down.

 

PLAYER NOTES

--C Augustus Gilchrist bounced back from a dismal game against St. John's by scoring 22 points against DePaul. He had only four in the St. John's game and did not have a field goal. Gilchrist had not scored 20 points in a game this year.

--The improvement of G Jawanza Poland since returning from a back injury that cost him the first 11 games of the season has coincided with the growth of the Bulls. Poland had averaged 11.7 points a game through his first eight games back, and in the ninth game, against DePaul, he scored 19.

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