Opening in an arena near you Saturday is a tale of revenge, a confident team playing some of the best basketball of the season, a hopeful star inching toward the spotlight and a tight-knit group of players defending their home turf despite hard times.
All these story lines will be played out at the Sun Dome when the USF men’s basketball team hosts Memphis Saturday night at 7.
“You can create any scenario you want. It all depends on how you want to spin it,” USF coach Seth Greenberg said. “(Memphis coach) John Calipari is spinning it as a revenge game, (saying) ‘We’re playing the best basketball we played all year. We just beat Louisville. We have momentum.’
“We’re spinning it (as) we know we’ve beaten them. We’re 12-1 at home. It’s an important game. So it depends on how you spin it.”
On Jan. 18, USF won its only road game of the season, defeating the Tigers 75-74.
“I think they are going to come out a little more aggressive, trying to play harder than they did at home,” sophomore guard Brian Swift said. “(To) come in our house and try and get a victory like we did to them. I think it is going to be a real tough game for us.”
Since losing to the Bulls, Memphis has gone 7-1, including an 80-73 victory at No. 4 Louisville Wednesday.
“Memphis is a top-15 team. It’s a joke they haven’t been in the Top 25 this season,” Greenberg said. “I get a kick listening to all these expert analysts on TV. They talk about teams on the bubble and this and that … No team has more quality wins out of conference than Memphis.”
During USF and Memphis’ last meeting, the Tigers were without their 6-foot junior guard Antonio Burks.
Burks, who will play this weekend, has 86 assists and 25 steals while starting in 17 games.
“Burks is as fast with the basketball as any player we play against this year. He is a difference maker,” Greenberg said. “He’s experienced, strong, tough, fast, (and) can shoot the ball at 17 feet very consistently. You can’t simulate his speed.”
One way USF will try and counteract the speed of Burks is by getting the ball down to 6-foot-10 Will McDonald in the post.
McDonald is tied for No. 8 in C-USA scoring 16 points per game, while rebounding the ball 7.9 points, good for No. 7 in C-USA.
McDonald, who has been projected as a possible draft pick by draft forecasting web sites and ESPN The Magazine, will give scouts and critics a glimpse of the possible future when he faces 6-foot-9 Chris Massie.
“I have a chance to play against a big time player like Massie,” McDonald said “That’s a big player with a big body. That’s what they have in the NBA.
“People that’s watching, they want to see me play against a big body.”
McDonald will have a strike against him heading into the matchup. He will play with a broken thumb.
“It just feels jammed. It’s been broken,” McDonald said. “I have to play harder. I have a broken thumb.”
USF’s senior leader cannot afford to miss a game because of his statistical importance and the Bulls lack of available players.
After learning that senior Greg Brittian was suspended for the season by violating NCAA policy, USF was left with 11 players because of freshman Sheldon Franklin’s torn anterior cruciate ligament, which he suffered during the summer.
Freshman Sam Barber would also be lost for the season because of an injured foot and sophomore starting guard Marlyn Bryant later was lost for the season because of a torn ACL.
Those injuries left the Bulls playing nine scholarship players.
USF avoided having eight scholarship players available when it was announced forward Terrence Leather would return to the team after an indefinite leave of absence that lasted one game.
“Our guys are great. We have no problems whatsoever,” Greenberg said.
“You look around the country, and most people only play about eight guys a game anyway. There’s not a lot of people playing nine, 10, 11.”
The players have kept their heads through the shortage of players and have been able to keep their mental composure.
“When we lose somebody, or whatever, it kind of phases us a little bit, but everybody that’s still playing, we still have the mindset of going out there and getting the job done,” Swift said.
“We feel that when we lose a teammate, we all just have to step it up a notch.”
Assistant Sports Editor Bryan Fazio covers men’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com