Head coach: Stan Heath - 6th season at South Florida; 195-176 in 12th season overall as head coach: 30-6 in one season at Kent State; 82-71 in five seasons at Arkansas; 83-99 in 6th season at South Florida. Led the Bulls to two NCAA tournament victories last season. Made trip to the Elite Eight in one season at Kent when the Golden Flash went 30-6.
You should know: The Bulls were one of the Cinderella stories in college basketball last season as they went from 10-23 in 2010-11 to 22-14 in 2011-12. Stan Heath was named Big East Coach of the Year, and then led the Bulls to NCAA tournament victories over Cal and Temple before falling to Ohio University…The Bulls have started off slowly in 2012-13, losing to Central Florida (78-59) and Western Michigan (58-53) at home, Oklahoma State (61-49) on the road, and then four straight to Syracuse (55-44), Villanova (61-53), at Louisville (64-38) and at Rutgers (70-67) before stopping the slide at home against Georgetown (61-58). But the Bulls dropped their fifth conference game in six tilts Wednesday night when they fell at Seton Hall, 55-47…This will be Notre Dame’s 11th game against South Florida. The Irish are 9-1 against the Bulls. Notre Dame lost its first game in the Sun Dome in February of 2007, but claimed a seven-point victory the following season and a 23-point win in February of 2011. Notre Dame has defeated South Florida seven straight, including a 57-53 victory over the Bulls in the Big East tournament last March.
Top losses: Augustus Gilchrist (9.5 ppg., 5.0 rpg.), Ron Anderson, Jr. (6.9 ppg., 5.5 rpg.), Hugh Robertson (6.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg.).
Top players: The modest-scoring Bulls are paced by four players tallying between 10.9 and 9.6 points per game. Victor Rudd, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound junior, paces South Florida in scoring (10.9) and rebounding (7.3). Rudd, however, is shooting just .376 from the field and .253 (19-of-75) from three-point range.
Rudd posts consistent numbers for the Bulls. He had 15 points and 11 rebounds against Syracuse and 10 points and eight rebounds against Louisville when South Florida managed just 38 points. Rudd scored a career-high 29 points in a three-overtime game against Bowling Green, and had 16 points and 16 rebounds against Youngstown State.
Providing a spark off the bench is 6-foot-4, 204-pound senior Jawanza Poland, who is averaging 10.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Poland is an above-average three-point shooter (.383, 23-of-60). He scored 18 points against Central Florida in early January.
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-8, 243-pound senior, averages 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He is the Bulls’ top converter of three-pointers with 31. But he is shooting just .326 on 95 attempts. He also leads the team in blocked shots with 18.
The Bulls have been banged up at the guard position. Point guard Anthony Collins, a 6-foot-1, 175-pounder, has had calf, hip and neck injuries, including a scary knee-to-head collision against George Mason in late-December that required a stretcher and immobilization of his head/neck.
Collins averages 9.6 points and 7.1 assists per game. He had a combined 22 assists against Bradley and Western Michigan in back-to-back games. He had 17 points and 10 assists in an 11-point home victory over Georgia.
Veteran Shaun Noriega, a 6-foot-4, 197-pound senior with a three-point shooting background, is lost for the season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot. The plan is to red-shirt and return for the 2013-14 season after playing in just eight games and averaging 8.4 points per game.
Martino Brock, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior, has taken over a starting spot. He averages 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He scored 18 points against Bowling Green and 14 against George Mason.
Javontae Hawkins, a 6-foot-5, 202-pound freshman, is averaging 13.1 minutes and 3.8 points per game.
Brey on South Florida: “This is a team that has not really used the three-point line in the past. They’ve been down among the bottom four of attempts, and they’re up there at the top right now. They’re smaller. Fitzpatrick - who is a heckuva three-point shooter - is now their center.
“So if we’re playing two bigs, one of our dilemmas will be that we’re playing against a small team. How do we defend them? We’ve got to be able to play zone and play good in our zone so we’re not chasing smaller guys all over the place. Can we rebound out of it?
“They’ve always been a very solid half-court defensive team. We just played one (Georgetown). Can we screen and move them around more and not be impatient and put our head down and drive too early in the possession? I think they’re confident at home. They had a great win over Georgetown.”
Prister’s take: You’d be hard pressed to find another team in the Big East struggling as badly as the Irish. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing…South Florida.
It’s like shooting in the dark recently trying to pick the outcome of a Notre Dame game. The Irish have been favored in each of their last four games and have lost three of them, including two at home. But nothing has come easily for the Bulls since the season-opener when they lost at home by 18 to Central Florida. In fact, while the Irish have lost two of their last three at home, South Florida has lost four times at home, including the first two Big East games of the season against Syracuse and Villanova.
Injuries have taken their toll on the Bulls, but probably not as much as the loss of 6-foot-10 Augustus Gilchrist and 6-foot-8 Ron Anderson, Jr., who combined for better than 10 rebounds per game. Heath has complained this season about lacking a true, consistent center, which helps explains some of the Bulls’ rebounding woes.
The Bulls too frequently get schooled on the backboards. The lost the rebound battle to Louisville, 49-24, and allowed Syracuse to snag 23 offensive rebounds to the their six. Western Michigan and Central Florida out-rebounded South Florida by 13 and 19 respectively.
The Bulls don’t shoot it well (.408 field-goal percentage), and thus, are ranked 294th in scoring at 61.6 points per game. Due in part to injuries, Heath pretty much has settled into a six-man rotation.
That being said, the Bulls are always a dangerous foe against Notre Dame because they have a little bit of length and more athletic ability, especially now that the Irish must move forward for at least a couple of weeks without 6-foot-8, 218-pound sixth-year senior Scott Martin.
The Bulls are a bit more inclined to let it fly from three-point range than they have been in the recent past. They don’t shoot it that well at .330 from long range. But in the Sun Dome, they have enough assets to make this a very long and difficult day for the Irish.
Someone has to step up in Martin’s absence, and Notre Dame’s best bet probably is 6-foot-10 Garrick Sherman, who gets a second chance after playing inconsistent basketball and being relegated to the bench the last two games. If Sherman can just settle in, go with the flow and not regress when something bad happens, he has more than enough offensive skills and defensive knowledge to help compensate for Martin’s absence.
This one won’t be pretty, but with their backs against the wall, Mike Brey and Co., will try to relax and find the groove that has been so good to the Irish when they let the game come to them.
Notre Dame’s guard play takes advantage of Noriega’s absence and Collins’ injury-plagued season to win the battle of the backcourts, and the Irish squeak out a much-needed road victory, just when it appeared they were about to go down for the count.
Pointspread: Notre Dame by 4
Prister’s Prediction: Notre Dame 59, South Florida 57
Prister’s record: 14-5 straight up; 7-9 vs. points