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USF vs Houston Preview

Who has the edge in this matchup of 9-5 teams?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

USF and Houston are both 9-5, with similar credentials so far this season, but appear to be headed in different directions going into tonight's game.

Houston has a similar profile to the Bulls, with wins over some very bad teams (Texas-San Antonio, Texas-Pan American, Howard), a loss to one (San Jose State), and losses to bad Power Five teams (Texas Tech, Texas A&M). But the Cougars' last game was an upset of #17 UConn at Hofheinz Pavilion, while the Bulls have lost three of their last four games, and looked uncompetitive against 18th-ranked Memphis on New Year's Eve.

For USF, point guard Anthony Collins is listed as doubtful, as is shooting guard Javontae Hawkins. The projected starting lineup has Corey Allen Jr. once again at the point guard, with Shemiye McLendon slated to get his fourth straight start at the two.

Houston runs a three-guard offense, and has also had injury problems at that position. Top 100 recruits L.J. Rose (foot) and Danuel House (knee) have missed games, and may not play at USF. But that's no problem for Houston; they have a ton of depth at the guard position, and beat UConn without Rose or House. If they can't go Saturday, point guard will be handled by junior college transfer Tione Womack, senior Brandon Morris, and true freshman Jaaron Simmons. They can all handle the ball, and coach James Dickey isn't afraid to put two point guards on the court at once. In House's absence, the streaky Jherrod Stiggers had 17 points against UConn. LeRon Barnes also sees time, and at 6-foot-6 is one of Houston's taller players.

Houston has two Top 100 recruits in the frontcourt as well. The best is probably 6-8 TaShawn Thomas an All-Conference candidate who plays a lot of minutes (more than 33 per game), can shoot well (63.6% from the field) and rebound (9.6 per game). UH's fourth elite prepster is Bahamian freshman Danrad Knowles, was just declared eligible on December 11. The Cougars have been working him in off the bench. He's an athletic 6-10 center reminiscent of USF's John Egbunu, who he'll likely play against. Houston also has 6-8 J.J. Richardson a transfer from Pittsburgh who got into two games against USF while with Pitt.

Let's go Four Factors on this game:

The numbers are similar, except that USF gets to the free throw line more often, which you'd expect from a team that relies more on its big men (including 6-9 Victor Rudd) for points.

USF and Houston have similar records, but different strengths and weaknesses. A key matchup will be USF's freshmen Egbunu and Chris Perry against Houston's all-conference TaShawn Thomas. Don't count on Thomas to foul out; he's only reached 3 fouls twice this season. Houston has a lot of guards, but most of them are short; Rudd should have a significant height advantage on whoever defends him. But Houston has much more depth in the backcourt, and an up-tempo game could favor the visitors.

The game tips off at 4 PM Saturday, and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.