SCOUTING THE BULLS
Any scouting report or other discussion regarding South Florida basketball begins (and arguably ends) with the exploits of sophomore guard Dominique Jones. The Lake Wales, Fla. native leads the Bulls in virtually every major statistical category, averaging a team-best 18.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Jones, who will likely have a place on the all-Big East first team when the all-conference teams are announced next Sunday, lit up West Virginia for 35 points in the first meeting this season on January 17 in Morgantown. The 6-4, 205-pound combo guard topped the 1,000 career-point plateau in a loss to Seton Hall on Wednesday, making him just the 16th player in South Florida basketball history to do so.
When Jones does get help, it normally comes from senior backcourt mate Jesus Verdejo or 6-10 freshman post Augustus Gilchrist. Verdejo is second on the team in scoring at 12.8 points per game, and leads the Bulls in three-point shooting with 49 makes from long distance on the season. However, an unfortunate combination of foot injuries has left the former Arizona Wildcat doubtful for Sunday's game against the Mountaineers. Verdejo is suffering from both Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis. Even worse, he was diagnosed on Friday with a bruised talus bone.
Gilchrist, a transfer from the University of Maryland who ironically chose the Bulls over West Virginia after leaving College Park, is the team's third-leading scorer and rebounder. Gilchrist has shown flashes of brilliant play at times this season, but such was not the case against WVU in January as the big man scored just two points in 19 minutes before fouling out in his first trip to the Coliseum. He does lead USF in blocked shots with 20 for the season.
Reserve forward Aris Williams found limited success against WVU earlier this season, chipping in eight points off the bench while Jones nearly led the Bulls back to victory in Morgantown.
Although one man does not a team make, the Mountaineers should be in pretty good shape if they can keep Jones from going off again as he did in Morgantown. The Bulls shoot less than 30 percent from three-point land, so don't be surprised to see a couple of different defensive looks from WVU in hopes of containing Jones.
In the previous meeting this season between the two schools, West Virginia controlled the game throughout before a sluggish finish nearly resulted in a USF upset. Jones misfired on a potential game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer as a collective sigh of relief was let out from the Coliseum crowd. Of course that game was more than a month ago, and since that first meeting, both teams have changed a lot. West Virginia, for example, has seen more consistent play from freshmen forwards Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones, with the former scoring in double figures eight times in 11 games since the first tilt with the Bulls and the latter turning into WVU's most consistent scoring threat off the bench. Meanwhile, USF has won just twice since the January 17 trip to Morgantown, including a string of five straight losses entering Sunday.
|Sun. March 1
4 p.m. EST
WVU 19-9, 8-7
South Florida 8-19, 3-12
West Virginia 4-1
Big East Network
WVU - 18
South Florida - 171
Though a win over the Bulls won't do much – if anything – for West Virginia's NCAA tournament resume, a defeat would give the Mountaineers their first "bad" loss of the season. For a team that is battling to stay in the top half of the Big East in hopes of avoiding an opening-round game in the Big East Championships, a win in Tampa is a must. Win this game, and all of West Virginia's primary goal between now and the end of the regular season (i.e. finishing in the top half of the league and getting a first-round bye in New York City) is still attainable. Lose, and it likely is not. It's that simple.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla, out (shoulder – will miss rest of season).
South Florida: Jesus Verdejo, doubtful (foot – day to day for rest of season). Mobolaji Ajayi, out (partially torn ACL – will miss rest of season).
This season marks USF head coach Stan Heath's second season at the helm. He is the eighth head coach in the 38-year history of the program.
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The Bulls have used no less than 14 different starting lineups this season. In addition to the usual mixing and matching that it takes to find the right combination, Heath has also had to deal with roster additions (players becoming eligible at semester and subtractions (injuries, dismissals).
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Out of all the players in the six major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big XII, Pac-10, SEC), Dominique Jones is the only one to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. He is also the only player in those conferences averaging at least 18 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
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USF is one of three home-and-home opponents for West Virginia this season, along with Pittsburgh and Louisville. The Mountaineers were swept by Pitt, and lost the first Louisville on January 31. The Cardinals will make the return trip to Morgantown next weekend.