Men’s basketball begins AAC Tournament with War on I-4 rematch

Sophomore center Russel Tchewa scored 13 points in the Bulls’ most recent game against in-state rival UCF, a 68-49 loss in Orlando on Feb. 3. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — USF men’s basketball is facing an uphill battle in the AAC Tournament, beginning with the third War on I-4 of the season against UCF on Thursday. The team will look to advance past the first round like they did a season ago.

Before the Bulls (8-22, 3-15 AAC) can even begin to think about making a deep run, however, they have to do something they haven’t done much of this season — win a basketball game.

This Bulls team finished with the worst regular-season record in coach Brian Gregory’s tenure. The offense’s numbers are indicative of just how poor the unit has performed.

USF’s field-goal and three-point percentage, 37.5% and 25%, respectively, are the worst in Division I. When a team shoots like that for a few games, it could be labeled a slump. When those numbers stretch over the course of a season, it’s an identity.

Despite the season-long offensive woes, one of the few wins the team has picked up this season came against the Knights (17-11, 9-9) in the Yuengling Center on Jan. 15. The 75-51 win was perhaps the Bulls’ best all-around performance in conference play.

USF drilled eight three-pointers that night, tying a season-high in the category, and held UCF to its second-lowest total all year. The Knights converted just two of their 20 three-point attempts, the worst deep shooting performance of the season.

There is a clear blueprint for the Bulls to follow to win their first-round matchup, but when analyzed in the greater context of the season, that win is an outlier. The reality is this USF team cannot rely on the offense to replicate that night.

When the Bulls traveled to Orlando a couple of weeks after the first War on I-4, the offense returned to form. The team shot just 34% from the field and hit just two three-pointers in a 68-49 loss. 

USF also allowed two Knights to score at least 20 points in junior guard Darin Green Jr. (23) and senior Darius Perry (20).

The most likely path to victory must run through the team’s defense. In each of the Bulls’ three conference wins this season, they have held their opponent to less than 55 points. That trend even extends to all but one of the team’s non-conference wins. 

The magic number for USF is 55. If the Knights eclipse that figure on the scoreboard, the Bulls will be going home as quickly as they arrived in Fort Worth.

The Bulls and Knights will tip off at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.