The Layup Line: South Florida

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls have started conference play 1-3 and just got routed by SMU; will the Bearcats have problems in Tampa this weekend?

The Bearcats' current resting place in the Top 25 is apparently helping their opponents market tickets. Case in point: South Florida (10-7) has dubbed the Sun Dome (their home court) as "the place to be" to watch a "monster" men's basketball game this weekend. Seriously - their coach, Stan Heath, called us a "monster team." Flattering, I guess?

While being ranked isn't a completely new concept for Cincinnati, in general, or these Bearcats, specifically, I guess whatever small amount of prestige that comes with it never hit me until today.

  • Game: Saturday, January 18, 2014; 5:00pm EST
  • Location: Sun Dome; Tampa Bay, FL
  • TV/Radio: ESPNU (some guy & a lady named Brooke); 700 WLW

Saturday's contest will be a test in complacency, in my humble opinion. The Bulls have retreated back to Tampa after getting shellacked by SMU this past week while the Bearcats, as you all know, struggled at times recently against Temple - a team that hasn't won an AAC game yet.

So why do I sound so concerned about a USF team that's 1-3 in conference play? Well - only this: Cronin and crew have lost their last 4 games in Tampa. But history's history, right? I damn sure hope so...

Victor Rudd (#02 in your program) has been the man for USF this year, but his points per game average has dipped in conference play. Prior to AAC play, he was averaging 16.2 a game, and in his 4 AAC games, he's only averaging 13.5. Rudd's a 6'9" fifth year senior who knows how to play, and my guess is that Titus Rubles is asked to cover him like a glove.

The calling card of Bull's coach Stan Heath isn't offense, though; it's supposed to be defense. Their KenPom adjusted defense is ranked 138th, though, and that's part of the reason they're only 1-3 in conference play. They're giving up the 3rd most points in the AAC during conference play, and they're second-to-last in defensive FG%.

I think the X-factor on Saturday will be 6'8" freshman forward, Chris Perry. Like many freshman, he's shown a few flashes on the court while also disappearing at times. He went for 10 points & 5 boards in 11 minutes of play one night, and he's scored 0 points & recorded just 1 rebound in 13 minutes on another night. He's been in-and-out of the starting lineup, and I'm not sure what to expect from him on a given night - hence, the X-factor.

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Defensive Rebound. Here's a stat I didn't believe until I saw it myself: the Bearcats have a negative rebounding margin in conference play. NEGATIVE! No other stat better sums up their (sometimes) lackluster play over the past week and a half. They have to defensive rebound to win.
  • Protect the Ball. Cincinnati has the best turnover margin in the conference while South Florida is in the bottom half. I think there's a real chance the Bearcats come away with single digit turnovers on Saturday.
  • Get Production from the Thomas/Sanders. Shaq and Jermaine are combining to average over 14 points a game in AAC play, and they'll need to get at least 10 (together) to win on Saturday.

My prediction: Mick ends his winless streak in Tampa this weekend. It'll be interesting, though; I think the Bulls come out guns blazing after getting embarassed by SMU. The Bearcats'll weather the early storm and escape with a victory. I also think there'll be real questions about UC's rebounding - even though it was such a strength in OOC play. Can we get Mr. Lawrence back soon? Please? Bearcats win 64-58.

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