There are two ways to look at the USF men’s basketball team’s game against Florida Saturday.
On one hand, coach Seth Greenberg has maintained this is only the eighth game of the year for the undefeated Bulls. Win or lose, the Florida game won’t make or break the Bulls season – not with 21 more games and a full conference plate in front of them.
On the other hand, it is the Gators, who return to the Sun Dome for the first time in six years – this time with a great deal at stake.”You don’t have a pulse if you can’t get excited about a game like this,” Greenberg said.
With the national stage providing the backdrop and a sold out Sun Dome expected, the Bulls (7-0) have a chance to step into college basketball’s elite – and the Top 25 – with a win against No. 6 Florida.
And while the Bulls have maintained a one-game-at-a-time approach and a low-key attitude, rest assured Dec. 8 has been circled on their calendar for some time.
“This is the game everybody has been talking about all year,” Altron Jackson said before the season. “Everywhere I go, that’s all I’ve been hearing.”
Adding prominence will be the presence of a national television crew and two of the biggest names in college basketball on hand. Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler will announce the game, which will be broadcast on ESPN2.
“We’ll be down in Tampa Saturday for a big matchup between the Gators and South Florida,” Vitale said during the Michigan State-UF game Wednesday. “Both these teams can light it up (and) it should be a great game.”
Other than being on national television, the Bulls should be aided by something else they are unaccustomed to – a full house. USF, which has only been averaging about 4,300 fans at home, expects the Sun Dome to be a complete sellout by game time.
“I think our kids are excited about the opportunity. The atmosphere is going to be electric,” Greenberg said. “I think our guys are looking forward to the game.”
With a plethora of Gator supporters in the Tampa Bay area, USF also took an interesting approach to ensuring the Sun Dome would be filled by mostly Bulls fans. Rather than sell individual game tickets and risk the chance of Gator fans outnumbering Bulls fans, the marketing team at USF only offered tickets to non-students through a six-game package deal, purchasing an Alumni Association package or holding season tickets.
But Saturday’s game won’t be decided by the fans in attendance or the atmosphere provided by the national television cameras. The Gators come into the game with a number of players remaining from the team that lost in the national championship game to Michigan State in 2000.
“They have four guys back from a Final Four team – from a championship game team – that all played significant minutes and starting roles.”
The Bulls and Gators share many similarities. Both teams create offense through their defense and like to get the ball up the court in transition. The Gators and Bulls also use a variety of full and half-court presses to force the opposing offenses hand.
“When you talk about Florida, you’re talking about dealing with their pressure,” Greenberg said. “You’re talking about handling their transition game, setting your defense (and) how you’re going to defend their interior people. Those are the questions you have to ask yourself as you prepare for that game.”
Although the Gators (31) lag behind the Bulls (45) in three-point percentage, Greenberg said he is concerned about the long-range capabilities of Matt Bonner, Justin Hamilton and Brett Nelson.
“They don’t maybe shoot it as well as they have in the past,” Greenberg said. “Bonner creates a matchup problem with his ability to shoot the ball with range. They play with very good spacing.”
The Bulls will also have their hands full inside with Udonis Haslem, one of the better post players in the country. Although USF will still be without Mike Bernard, who will be eligible to return for the Syracuse game, Gerrick Morris has been playing well on the defensive end while Will McDonald is coming off a career-best 28-point performance against Northern Illinois.
“(The Gators have) the best low-post scorer in college basketball in Udonis Haslem,” Greenberg said. “Haslem is such a force inside,”
The Bulls enter the game healthy, with only Reggie Kohn (tendinitis in both ankles, shin splints) and Greg Brittian (tendinitis behind knee) nicked up. But Greenberg said that in preparation for the Gators’ game, the intensity level in practice has been increased.
“It’s almost like if you relate it to football, we’ve been practicing in helmets and shorts,” Greenberg said. “Well, we’re going back to pads. We don’t play another game until (Dec.) 20, so we’ve got to push the envelope a little bit so that we can get back to what we do well.”