Bulls focus on limiting turnovers, getting in rhythm ahead of War on I-4

The Bulls will be looking to pick up their first win since coming back from the monthlong break they were forced to take. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

It’s no secret the USF men’s basketball team has been struggling since its return from a COVID-19-induced hiatus. The Bulls have lost both games since the restart against Houston and Tulane.

For coach Brian Gregory, the root of the team’s problems stem from an inability to take care of the basketball. That’s his main concern heading into Wednesday’s game against UCF in Orlando.

“I think it’s 46-11 the last two games, points off turnovers,” Gregory said Tuesday. “There’s obviously some rational reasons to it, but if you go back, the points off turnovers against Memphis and Wichita State in our first two losses of the season were a big cause of it. 

“It’s like you’re going to start the game and we’re going to give Team X 16 straight possessions, we would be better off [doing] that because we’d be [able to play] defense.”

According to statistics, USF’s turnover problems have not only plagued them in the past couple of games, it’s been a recurring issue throughout the season.

USF is averaging a second-worst 15 turnovers per game and is last in the AAC in turnover margin with a minus-2.21 difference, meaning that while the Bulls are giving the ball away often, they’re also not as potent when it comes to forcing their opponents into turnovers.

“It’s not like it’s one or two guys with five or six, it’s everyone with one to three turnovers,” Gregory said. “So sometimes that’s a little more difficult because it’s not, like I said, one or two guys that you could show them ‘Hey we’re forcing things here’ it’s one [turnover] a half. But if you’re playing eight guys and everyone gets one a half, that’s 16 turnovers and that puts you in a tough spot.”

Another area where the Bulls are looking to improve is getting their important players acclimated again after the long layoff. Redshirt junior Alexis Yetna and highly touted freshman guard Caleb Murphy have been floundering since the restart.

In the games against Houston and Tulane, the two starters combined for 23 points, eight turnovers and just six field goals. If USF wants to be successful in the postseason the improvement of Yetna and Murphy is crucial.

Yetna and Murphy were perhaps the two players most affected by the long layoff. Murphy still needs time to adjust to the pace and style of the college game while Yetna is coming off a serious knee injury that caused him to miss all of last season. 

“In those two games, watching them, the worst thing you can do for a guy who’s missed 12 months of basketball, is to have him go two months of basketball and then have him 30 days without basketball,” Gregory said of Yetna. “He’s a little bit out of sorts.” 

When it comes to Murphy, Gregory said for such a young player, any missed action is a big disadvantage.

“It’s difficult as a freshman to play the point guard spot,” Gregory said. “Every practice, every game you learn something different and you gain that experience, be it a good experience or bad. When you miss those 30 days of practice and you miss seven games, that’s a lot of learning experience for Caleb. You try to compensate with some film and different things like that, but nothing beats being on the court.”

Gregory and his team look to turn things around against their rivals, who they defeated in their last matchup 68-61 on Jan. 2 at the Yuengling Center. 

With the Knights being the only team in the conference averaging more turnovers than the Bulls, this could be the perfect bounce-back game for the team, and one that helps shift momentum leading into the homestretch of the season.

Gregory hopes his team can begin playing its best brand of basketball heading into the later stages of the regular season.

“With where we’re at right now, [when] you talk about getting back on track as a team, playing at the level we were for a good amount of time prior to the shutdown … as we get back on track, let’s start playing our best basketball as we get to mid-February and the beginning of March,” Gregory said. 

“Again, there’s a lot of teams out there that have gone through the same stuff as we have so we’re not unique, you got to focus on playing your best basketball at the end of the year.”

Wednesday night’s game against UCF will tip off at 7 o’clock and will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.