Preview: South Florida

West Virginia looks to rebound from two consecutive road defeats as it travels to South Florida for a 7:00 p.m. tip tonight.


South Florida is pegging this as a huge game for its program – and yet still offering two-for-one tickets to fill out the 10,411-seat Sun Dome. Head coach Stan Heath has struggled top gain marquee Big East wins, and indeed the Bulls are 0-3 in league play to begin this year. But they have more balanced scoring now than at most previous times (four players average more than eight points), and they possess a pair of guards in Chris Howard and Dominique Jones that could cause West Virginia issues. Howard (6-3, 200 lbs.) is the off guard and has an impressive 60 assists to 21 turnovers He hits for 10 points and three boards a game, but it is his passing and defensive ability that has earned him 34-plus minutes per game. Howard will harass opposing guards and has quick hands and feet. He has just 11 steals this year, but has caused more by getting into lanes, deflecting passes and forcing hurried decisions. He isn't the most skilled or talented two man the Mountaineers will face. But he might, because of height and speed, be matched against Truck Bryant. The Mountaineer point needs to be solid and play a heady game, especially matched against an experienced senior on the road. Jones (6-4, 215 lbs.), the one, is a scoring point guard who leads the team with 19 points per game. The junior is a good shooter (48 percent from the field; 40 percent from three), and his ability to muscle into the lane gives him an advantageous rebounding position that he has turned into a 5.7 board-per-game average. He plays about 35 minutes a game and ranks in the top 10 in school history in almost every offensive category. Despite his listing as a point, don't be surprised to see WVU head coach Bob Huggins slide Da'Sean Butler over to guard him in man.

The forwards are a mixed bag of experience and youth, steadiness and athleticism. Swingman Mike Mercer (6-5, 195 lbs.) is a senior and averages eight points and four rebounds. As expected, he is a better outside threat than power player Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (6-8, 230 lbs.), a freshman. Mercer has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and has chosen quality shots that have enabled him to hover around the 47 to 50 percent mark in shooting. He will step outside for a couple looks a game, but he has made just eight of 33 threes thus far. Fitzpatrick, out of Tampa's King High, chose USF over Ole Miss after he was let out of his original letter-of-intent to Georgia Southern. He has a strong upside, but lacks control on the floor at times. He has turned the ball over less than twice per game, but occasionally gets out of position on both ends. Heath is using him about 20 minutes per game, though that increased over the last seven games after the leg injury to forward Augustus Gilchrist. Gilchrist's absence – he averaged 19 points and seven rebounds through seven games – has thinned depth and forced Heath to on what's essentially a six-man roster. Fitzpatrick, like Mercer, is a poor free throw shooter. The main goal here is to keep him off the offensive glass and pressure as needed for turnovers. This is an excellent on-paper match-up for West Virginia's forwards.
Game Info
Wed. Jan. 13
7:00 p.m. EST

Sun Dome
WVU 12-2, 3-1 Big East
USF 10-5, 0-3 Big East
WVU 5-1
Big East Network
635, 640
Sirius Channel: 127
WVU - 2
USF - 88
Center Jarrid Famous (6-11, 240 lbs.), 11 points and eight boards per game, is a power interior player. The junior is shooting 54 percent from the field and leads the team in rebounding on both ends. He is a hacker on defense, and he will turn it over, but Famous should supply adequate muscle to move WVU around inside. A double-team off Fitzpatrick or Mercer will be key. The lone major reserve is Justin Leemow (6-1, 180 lbs.). The sophomore guard is playing 20 minutes per game, but can't seem to find his shot at 25 percent from both the field and three-point line. He has a hard time guarding opposing players and has fouled out twice already this year. The Brooklyn native (Mt. Zion Christian) isn't a major threat at 2.4 points and 1.3 rebounds, and he is used to steal minutes more than anything else. Three other players have appeared in at least 10 games, but they are being shuffled in and out as needed for breaks, game flow, fouls and other issues and all average less than two points and 1.5 rebounds with about five minutes per game on average.


South Florida still seems to be a team in flux with its forward situation after the loss of Gilchrist. Howard and Jones are a fine Big East backcourt, but without solid forward play they have been the primary focus of foes who pressure them and force the frontcourt to carry the team in points. West Virginia will likely double down on Famous when he gets the ball and slide a forward over to try to negate Jones' shooting and scoring ability. He has to be cut off from the lane and made to shoot longer, contested shots. Howard won't take foes off the dribble as much, so West Virginia can guard him closer to keep the senior from getting off passes to players in good position. Depth could also play a significant role as the Mountaineers role in eight to 10 deep (depending upon if players execute assignments and play within the framework the coaching staff sets) to USF's six-man-plus set-up. WVU has far more individual talent, and unlike sweet-shooting Purdue and Notre Dame, the Bulls don't have the outside offensive skill from a variety of slots to force the Mountaineers from packing in and getting rebounds. If West Virginia plays intelligently, it should be able to pick up a needed league road win. A loss here intensifies the questions already surrounding a team with clear cut – if quite resolvable – issues.


WVU: None.

USF: F Augustus Gilchrist (Ankle), Out; G Anthony Crater (Leg), Out; C Alex Rivas Sanchez (Leg), Out.


Huggins was a graduate assistant at West Virginia when it played South Florida for the first time in the 1977 Big Sun Invitational in St. Petersburg, Fla. USF won 80-71. As a head coach, Huggins is 17-1 versus the Bulls, 3-0 at WVU and 14-1 at Cincinnati

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Da'Sean Butler is now 9th on the all-time West Virginia scoring list with 1,668. He needs 20 points to pass Ron ‘Fritz' Williams for eighth place.

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WVU has won six of its last seven games in Florida and has committed just 33 turnovers in five league wins over South Florida (6.6 per game average)..

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The Mountaineers are 22-0 under Huggins when shooting 50 percent or better from the field, 57-2 when leading by 10 or more points and 50-1 when outshooting foes.

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Kevin Jones is the only Mountaineer to scorer in double figures in each of the first 14 games Jones' 221 points thus far match the amount he scored all of last season.

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