After two rough-and-tumble losses at home to open Big East play, the South Florida Bulls' schedule doesn't get any easier. Today they are in Louisville to face the third-ranked, revenge-minded Louisville Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center. The Bulls upset Louisville 58-51 last season in one of the biggest wins in USF basketball history, practically cinching their bid in the NCAA Tournament. Can USF pull off another stunner over a team many are predicting will return to the Final Four?
Louisville is probably the best team USF will play all year. You know what a Rick Pitino team does by now. On offense it's good ball movement, speed (Russ Smith may be the fastest player in college basketball), and some three-point shooting (although not as much as you might expect). And on defense, it's pressure in the backcourt, tight man defense on the perimeter, a shot-blocker underneath. When you see Gorgui Dieng's shot-block totals, keep in mind that he missed seven games with a wrist injury. He had a whopping 128 rejections last season.
Remember back on Sunday when KenPom had Syracuse rated as the #1 defensive team in the country? Well, now Louisville is the #1 team in the country in defensive efficiency. They're second in forcing turnovers (29.2% of opponents' possessions end with a turnover), second in steals, 13th in offensive efficiency, and also well above average in rebounding. Their only loss was to top-ranked Duke, and the really scary thing about the Cards is that they can play a bad half and still win comfortably, like they did at Memphis and at Seton Hall.
The Bulls are a giant 18-point underdog this afternoon, and without last year's ability to control the boards and the paint, USF really has their work cut out for them against the Cardinals. They have to do an exceptional job against the Louisville press, not waste possessions, and shoot as well as they can to keep themselves in the game.