The last time Villanova met with South Florida, they had only a single blemish on their record -- a disappointing loss to Tennessee at Madison Square Garden. The 'Cats travelled to Tampa, Florida for their one and only meeting with the Bulls on January 6th. They won that game by 12 points behind insanely-good shooting performances from Corey Stokes, who went 5 for 5 from 3-point range, and Dominic Cheek, who made all six of his shot attempts, including four from beyond the arc.
This time around, Villanova might not be able to lean so heavily on Stokes, who has been suffering from a hamstring injury since the January 9th game against Cincinnati that was aggravated in practice last week. The senior sharpshooter will reportedly be a game-time decision tomorrow, and Jay Wright is not likely to take any chances.
If Stokes cannot play, one of the sophomores will start in his place. In the last game, it was Cheek who got the call to start, but Maalik Wayns has also started more than a few games this season and could get an opportunity to win the job back. As Coach Wright told the Delco Times:
One of the things I found in the last game is that by starting [Cheek] is that you kind of shorten your guard rotation because you really only have three. We can play Tahj (James Bell) there, but Tahj is a little bit more of a three so if he doesn’t play at the one or two spot you only have Cheek, Fish (Corey Fisher) and Maalik. I think Maalik got a little worn down, but that’s because Fish got three fouls in the first half so we might lean toward bringing Cheek off the bench just so he can get in that rotation and keep those three guards fresh. That’s probably what we would do.
USF has three conference victories this season, with two of them coming against DePaul and the other over Providence. Despite that, they have managed to give a few of the better programs in the conference an unexpected close game, and even took a Brigham Young to two overtimes in a loss early this season.
The junior, Augustus Gilchrist (F-C) is the top scoring option for the Bulls, averaging 13.2 points, mostly inside. Second on the team is sophomore newcomer, Jawanza Poland, a 6'4" guard who averages 9.2 points per game, but has been compiling plenty of highlight reel material this season. Third on the team is senior center Jarrid Famous, who is both tall and athletic, and scores 8.9 points per game while grabbing 5.5 rebounds.
While the leading scorers haven't changed since their last meeting in early January, the game plan certainly has. Coach Stan Heath has begun to use more substitutions and more zone defenses in the hopes that his players will be less-gassed at the end of games and perhaps better equipped to win a few more of the close ones.
The 'Cats have handled a zone defense before, but may have depth issues of their own. Getting out to an early enough lead and maintaining that will be important to their ability to withstand any late USF-onslaught. As a team that really doesn't have a strong 3-point threat, the Bulls will not be able to beat Villanova the same way that Notre Dame picked apart the Wildcat defense.
If the Bulls come out and play with a higher level of intensity, take advantage of mistakes, and maybe bully Mouph Yarou around inside, their prospects of moving on to Wednesday with an upset in-hand may be looking up. If Villanova limits it's mistakes, matches USF's intensity and plays tough defense inside, they will likely be able to stave off the South Florida threat.
Villanova takes on USF in the opening game of the Tuesday night session at Madison Square Garden. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7:00pm (but may be delayed). Television coverage will be available on ESPNU and ESPN3.com.
Please join me and MIKE in pledging a donation to the Randy Foye Foundation during our Blogathon.
Edit 11:28am: Jenn Sterger absolutely did go to USF -- for two years before transferring to FSU.