Villanova's record sits at an even 7-7 while their Thursday night opponent, the South Florida Bulls, come into the Pavilion with an 8-7 record and a 1-1 Big East record after a two game "home" stint. The Bulls have not played a particularly strong schedule, ranked 73rd by RealTimeRPI.com (Villanova ranks 31st), and their best win has been either Cleveland State or Rutgers.
While all of their victories have come at home, the Bulls' "home" has consisted of a number of different area venues while their SunDome arena has been undergoing renovations this season. Mostly, however, their Big East games will be held at the St. Pete Times Forum.
It is likely that Villanova fans will remember the beating the 'Cats gave the Bulls in the first half of their Big East tournament match-up last year. Fans will also remember how the 'Cats gave it all back again in the second half, allowing USF to come back and win the game by a single point.
This isn't exactly the same team that came back in that game, however. Power forward Jarrid Famous finished his eligibility, three guards (Mike Burwell, Shedrick Haynes and LaVonte Dorrity) transferred, and one more (Anthony Crater) was dismissed from the program.
Shaun Noriega, who lit it up in that game for 22 points, is back and averaging 5.1 points per game. Augustus Gilchrist, who tagged the 'Cats for 16 points in their last meeting, is the only Bulls player averaging double-digit points with 11.1 per game. Gilchrist also contributes 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest.
Second on the team in points and leading the way on the boards is Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who has scored 9.1 and grabbed 6.9 caroms per game. Three players follow in points, scoring 8.8 points per game, Ron Anderson Jr., Victor Rudd and Jawanza Poland, who has fast become a USF fan favorite as well, leading the Bulls to a win over Cleveland State.
As a team, USF is connecting on just under 33% of their 3-point attempts, but Fitzpatrick has made 44.4% and Noriega is good on 37.8% so far this season. LaVonte Dority has made 5-of-11 (45.5%) as well, in limited action. After those there players, everyone else shoots the team average or worse from deep.
Villanova has allowed players, especially guards like Noriega, a lot of good looks this season. Unless they have solved that problem in the past 4 days, it is highly likely that more good looks will be allowed. In order to alleviate some of that trouble, Villanova should consider using a triangle-and-2 or box-and-1 defense for limited periods to get a few stops and prevent a shooter from getting into too much of a rhythm.
Villanova needs to play a complete game.
After two partial-efforts from the 'Cats against West Virginia and Marquette, they will need to start playing hard and smart for the full 40 minutes in order to get some traction this season. That starts with defense, making hustle plays, generating turnovers, and making it difficult to find a good shot. Good defense will beget good offense for the 'Cats, who can benefit from playing off the fastbreak, and gives the 'Cats some momentum as well.
Furthermore, Villanova needs to play more like a team. Players need to look to make the extra pass rather than taking difficult jumpers early in the shot clock. They also need their point guard to worry less about trying to take over games offensively and more on making his teammates better.
Wright's point guards have tended toward trying to take over games at times, with Scottie Reynolds being the height of that phenomenon. Reynolds was a tremendous scorer, however, who seemed to will the team to win almost by magic on some occasions. Maalik Wayns meanwhile, possesses more physical talent, but he has never had the same ability to be a one-man-team that Reynolds did.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Wayns doesn't need to be Scottie Reynolds and Dominic Cheek doesn't need to be Corey Stokes (or Allan Ray). Both players were McDonalds All-American's when they came to the Main Line, and they are on a roster stocked with top-notch players. There is no need for any one player to force things to make a play.
Playing to your strengths and with your teammates is a recipe for success, but if you force yourself to be something else, you'll likely taste failure.
USF is likely to deploy a lot of zone defense against the 'Cats, who have looked lost against the 2-3 for most of this season and the last two. There are a few options for attacking the 2-3 zone, but when the shots aren't falling from outside with any level of consistency, it is imperative to get the ball into the high post.
How? Almost any player on the floor can cut into the high post to receive a pass from the point guard. Alternately, if the defense adjusts to that strategy (or otherwise allows it), a guard can attempt to use dribble-penetration to drive the ball into the high-post.
From there, the defense has to adjust. If they don't, a shot that is well within the range of Villanova's players will be available to whomever has the ball in the high-post. If the defense does adjust, it potentially opens up passes back to the perimeter or (ideally) to the low-post for an easy shot.
USF plays at a slower pace than many other teams that Villanova has faced. The 'Cats don't want to get forced into a half-court offense on every possession, however, especially with the likelihood of that zone defense popping up. The 'Cats should look to dictate the pace a little and speed things up . . . but do so without turning the ball over themselves, which has developed into an issue recently.
Wright blames his team's struggles on a lack of senior leadership, but the 'Cats just haven't seemed to buy in the way players did in the past. The 'Cats have the talent to be better than they have, the question that remains is: Can they pull it together?
Statistics sites like KenPom.com give South Florida less than 20% chance of winning this game, but a good game-plan on their part could make the contest an interesting one.
The game tips off at 8:00 pm tonight at Villanova's Pavilion with television coverage on ESPN3.com and WPHL17 locally.