An experienced front court has pulled the Bulls to respectability this year, and although USF doesn't have many marquee wins (Wake Forest and Cincinnati are the only two that come close to qualifying), there's no doubt it is on its way up.
Forwards Melvin Buckley and McHugh Mattis form two-thirds of the potent frontcourt combination. Mattis (Sr., 6-6, 190 lbs.) averages 12.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and does all of his damage from the inside, having not attempted a three-pointer this year. He also has 73 blocked shots on the season. Buckley (Sr., 6-7, 215 lbs.) who leads the team with a 16.4 points per game average, is the perfect complement, as 50 of his 99 fied goals have come from long range. He chips in with 4.8 rebounds per game, and is also an excellent free throw shooter, hitting on 81% of his tries to date.
As if that pair weren't enough, big Kentrell Gransberry (Jr., 6-9, 270 lbs.) is a load to contend with inside. He is converting 62% of his tries from the field, which works out to 14.7 points per game, and backs that up with big board work. His 10.7 average in that department has him averaging a double-double on the season.
Injuries have caused a good bit of shuffling in the USF backcourt, but the one consistent point has been Solomon Bozeman (Fr., 6-0, 165 lbs.). He matches Mattis' output with 12.4 points per game, and has surprisingly gotten to the line more than any other Bull. He is a sterling 107-121 from the free throw line on the season, and has scored nearly as many points from that location as he has from the field.
Chris Howard (Fr., 6-3, 205 lbs), recently returned from a knee injury that kept him off the court for all of the 2005-06 season, is the fifth expected starter. He is averaging just 4.0 points per game in two appearances this year, but does steady the Bulls' shaky ballhandling with a nearly 3-1 assist to turnover ratio.
Off the bench, guard Jesus Verdejo (So., 6-4, 205 lbs.) gets plenty of time, averaging 27 minutes per outing. He averages 9.6 points per game, and is a respectable long-range threat. Fellow guard Chris Capko (Sr., 6-1, 185 lbs.), who is questionable with an ankle injury, is a glue guy that contributes in all areas. While his shooting percentange isn't steallar, he was averaging nearly 24 minutes of time in his ten appearances. Adamu Saaka (Fr., 6-6, 195 lbs.) is a swingman who chips in with 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest.
The experience gap between the Bulls' frontcourt and backcourt has, along with a tough injury situation, dictated USF's season to date.
|Wed Jan 17|
WVU 13-3, 3-2
USF 10-8, 1-3
|Sirius Channel: 158|
WVU - 48
USF - 162
USF's turnover woes don't automatically translate into success for West Virginia in this area, however. The Bulls have faced UConn, Pitt andLouisville in three of their first four league games – teams that apply pressure and in-your-face defense for 40 minutes. Whether WVU's 1-3-1 and halfcourt man looks can yield the same results remains to be seen. The return of Chris Howard, who protects the ball better, could also mean a decrease in the gaffes that have plagued the Bull offense this year.
Look for USF to try to establish Gransberry on the blocks early in the game. If West Virginia is in man, either Rob Summers or Jamie Smalligan will have to get over the top and deny entry passes – otherwise WVU could be in for a foul-plagued session. In the 1-3-1, Darris Nichols will have to watch for the 270-pound center as he sets screens, then rolls off establish a spot down low. Nichols will have to get around Gransberry and help deny passes into the post while the centers move down from the middle of the 1-3-1. Failure in this regard will likely result in Gransberry improving on his 62% field goal success rate.
WVU might well try to force the pace, given USF's poor bench production that could lead to limited minutes for its reserves. Through 18 games this season, USF is averaging just 8.2 points per game off the bench and has collected a total of just six points from its non-starters in its four Big East games. And if the subs do play extended minutes, it could offer West Virginia a chance to mount a run against opposition that struggles to put the ball in the basket.
While the Bulls are certainly improved, this is a game that West Virginia needs to win in order to establish itself as a bona fide NCAA contender. Each of WVU's next six games are certainly winnable, but with three on the road and a fourth against frothing-at-the-mouth Marshall, the Mountaineers don't have any contests they can coast through. A win over the Bulls at the Coliseum would give West Virginia a renewed sporingboard of optimism for Saturday's game at Cincinnati.
The Mountaineers have forced 318 turnovers on the season, but the Mountaineers haven't just piled up big numbers against inferior competition. Only two of West Virginia's sixteen foes to date have committed fewer than 16 giveaways.
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USF has become a transfer destination of sorts, attracting several players on their second-go-rounds in college. Gransberry is a transfer from LSU, while Capko switched from Florida. Melvin Buckley (Purdue), Verdejo (Arizona) and Aris Williams (Valparaiso) are also transfers.
Add in two juco transfers, and half of the Bulls' active roster did not come directly to the USF campus.
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With a youth-dominated team, there aren't nearly as many climbs in the career record books to track this year than there were a season ago. However, senior forward Frank Young has broken into the career top ten in both the three-point field goal made and attempted categories, and is 11th in career three-point shooting percentage. Young is 124-354 (35%)from behind the arc in his career. He trails Seldon Jefferson by nine in the made shots category, and Tracy Shelton by 17 on the attempts list. Patrick Beilein (35.9%) stands between Young and a top ten spot on the percentage list.
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USF's win over Cincinnati on Sunday moved the program out of last place in the Big East for the first time in history. The Bulls' first league victory last year didn't come until the final game of the season, when they downed nationally ranked Georgetown at the Sun Dome to conclude the year with a 1-15 league record.