As though the USF men’s basketball team didn’t have enough to worry about, it must now face one of the nation’s most potent teams in No. 9 Louisville, a squad that will be hungry following its blowout loss at home against Memphis on Wednesday.
USF is coming off a home loss of its own, falling to St. Louis 55-47. In that game, the Bulls shot 29.4 percent and had a total of 12 points at halftime.
So is the impossible possible? Is an upset a reasonable proposal on Saturday?
USF can look at Memphis’ upset over the Cardinals as a beacon of hope, as earlier this season the Bulls took Memphis down to the final minutes before losing 73-67.Louisville just may be ripe for the picking, needing last-second free throws to beat UAB, a team that USF lost to by one point Jan. 8 before losing to the Blazers again by 14 on Jan. 29.
There’s even more reason for optimism: The Cardinals are coming off a season in which they won 16 of their first 17 games before losing nine of their last 12.
“I think at this point that the fact we’re playing Louisville, it doesn’t matter at this point,” coach Robert McCullum said following USF’s loss on Wednesday. “Because before we focus on Louisville, or whoever the opponent may be, we have to focus on our team.”
The focus so far for the Bulls has been Terrence Leather and Brian Swift, the only Bulls to play consistently on the offensive side all season.
More and more, defenses are starting to focus their efforts solely on the two seniors. By doubling Leather — who was bothered by the flu versus St. Louis and didn’t get a single bucket — opponents are forcing USF to shoot from the perimeter, where they have shown a tendency to struggle after a cold start.
“When we don’t make shots early, we kind of get down on ourselves,” said senior guard Brian Swift, who scored a team-high 21 points on Wednesday. “When we don’t get an easy shot or two, it’s hard for us to get our body language back into it.”
If the Bulls struggled to get decent looks against St. Louis — which they did — they should expect more of the same versus the Cardinals, who are holding opponents this season to a 37.8 percent shooting percentage, good enough for third in the league.
If the Bulls boast a double-headed monster with Leather and Swift, the Cardinals can boast the same with defense and offense.
Louisville (20-4, 8-2, C-USA) is also C-USA’s most powerful offensive team, leading the league in scoring (84.1), scoring margin (+21.2), field goal percentage (.471) and three-point percentage (.398).
If USF (10-11, 3-7 C-USA) ever needed an upset, they need it now, having slipped again into a tie for 11th place with Tulane. Only C-USA’s top 12 teams make the conference tournament.
So do the Bulls, heavy underdogs as usual, smell an upset?
The answer is yes, but only if their appetite is bigger than their collective stomach.