The Bulls first worry is over. Center Will McDonald will be back in the lineup when the USF men’s basketball team travels to Houston to play the Cougars (4-11, 2-2 in Conference USA) tonight at 8:30. With the Bulls’ leading scorer (16.8) and rebounder (7.7) manning the five spot, that’s one less thing to concern USF coach Seth Greenberg.
But even with McDonald’s return, the Bulls (9-7, 2-3) have questions as they enter Hofheinz Pavilion. In USF’s last outing minus McDonald due to his suspension following his arrest for battery and false imprisonment Friday, East Carolina erased whatever momentum the Bulls built up from their first-ever win at Memphis. USF took ECU to two extra periods, but couldn’t pull out a win at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C., as Greenberg was ejected and his team fell 68-62. Even with that string of misfortune, Greenberg said his team has the mental toughness to bounce back.
“We have a terrific mindset,” Greenberg said. “We were solid for most of the game, but we just mismanaged two possessions.”McDonald’s presence should be a boon to the Bulls on the glass, but even with the 6-foot-11, 250-pounder in the starting five, USF has struggled with rebounding. The Bulls own a slight advantage on Houston in rebounding (38.4-38.2), but the Cougars are out rebounding their opponents by more than three boards. USF is trailing its opposition on the boards. Against the Pirates (11-6, 2-4), USF was trounced on the glass, as ECU dominated the rebounding category, 71-42.
“We need to pursue the ball off the backboard as a unit,” Greenberg said. “In our man-to-man, we’ve been terrific. We’re rebounding extremely well, but now in the zone (defense), it’s harder to find and tag a man.”
One man Greenberg is seeking to help turn that margin around is junior power forward Gerrick Morris. As McDonald’s replacement at center in the starting lineup vs. ECU, Morris struggled shooting (3-of-16), but he excelled at rebounding, leading the squad with 11 caroms.
“He was hard, effective and efficient,” said Greenberg of Morris. “He had trouble finishing, but he can really change and block shots.”
Morris also paced the team with his four blocks. Greenberg said he was undecided whether Morris would get the starting nod alongside McDonald, or if he would go back to freshman Yusuf Baker at the four.
Whoever starts at power forward will have the task of handling Houston’s multi-dimensional Louis Truscott. The former Nebraska transfer has come into his own in his second season with the Cougars, leading the team in scoring and rebounding. The senior is averaging a double-double with 16.6 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per contest, playing 36 minutes a game.
To assist in the rebounding department, Greenberg said that he needs both of his guards to help out, especially when the Bulls go with the diminutive backcourt of 6-foot-1 Reggie Kohn and 5-foot-10 Brian Swift. The duo gives USF more speed and ball-handling, but is a liability on the boards.
“The guards need to come back for the long rebounds and help out on the back side,” Greenberg said. “It hurts us rebounding when we go to the 3-2 (zone), but it helps our ball-handling.”
The Houston matchup will be the Bulls’ last contest of a three-game road swing before they make their way back to the Sun Dome for three straight, all against Conference USA foes. Even with USF’s setback at ECU, the Bulls find themselves just a game behind in the weak National Division. Houston is a half-game ahead of the Bulls for second place in the division, only trailing UAB (11-5, 3-2) for the front-runner spot.
In the American Division, Cincinnati, at 6-0, is a half-game in front of Louisville, which is also perfect (5-0) in conference play. Marquette is a half game back of the Cardinals at 5-1.
Contact Anthony Gagliano at firstname.lastname@example.org