Tough road tests await young Bulls

The USF men’s basketball team has had a bright start to the season, easing to a 5-2 record with an average margin of victory just below 16 points. But now, the Bulls will face premier opposition as they hit the road for a daunting pair of games.

First up is a trip to Richmond, Va., to play Virginia Commonwealth (3-3) on Wednesday, before the Bulls head to Lawrence, Kan., to meet No. 15 Kansas (3-2) on Saturday in one of the most famous venues in college basketball.

“(It’s a) big week in front of us,” coach Stan Heath said. “Two teams that I think are very good. With VCU and what they did last year and Kansas, probably the second-winningest program in the country, we’ve got a lot on our table.”

In the Rams, USF will get a chance to play a team that not only made a Cinderella run to the Final Four a year ago, but also lost to the Bulls 60-59 in overtime in the Sun Dome last season. The Rams come into the game with a .500 record, but played well and led for most of their Sunday game at No. 13 Alabama.

“In the last two weeks, they’ve gotten a lot better,” Heath said. “I don’t know if they’re as offensively talented as they were last year, but the way they run the floor, the way they pressure their defense, they may have cranked up another notch in being able to turn people over and play with heart. That was very impressive watching them (Sunday) night against Alabama.”

The VCU game will also see a young, new starting lineup for the Bulls. Heath said Monday that freshman point guard Anthony Collins and sophomore shooting guard Blake Nash will start behind a front court consisting of sophomore small forward Victor Rudd Jr., junior power forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and senior forward Ron Anderson Jr. With this lineup, the Bulls will have two sophomores and a true freshman playing the majority of minutes.

Still recovering from a left shoulder injury sustained Nov. 20 against Penn State, senior forward Augustus Gilchrist is questionable to play against the Rams, though Heath expects him to be available in time to play Kansas.

The game against the Jayhawks figures to be one of the Bulls’ toughest of the year. Allen Fieldhouse, better known as “The Phog,” is one of the most famous venues in the country and is filled to its 16,300 fan capacity for nearly every game. In his ninth season, Kansas coach Bill Self has a 95 percent record at home. The venue was also named the loudest in college basketball by ESPN The Magazine last year.

The Jayhawks come in with two losses, but are fresh off an appearance in the EA Sports Maui Invitational championship game, a 68-61 loss to No. 3 Duke. Their only other loss also came on a neutral floor, a 75-65 defeat to No. 1 Kentucky in the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Tip off against the Rams is set for 7:30 p.m. The Bulls’ clash against Kansas is set for 5:15 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.