We're putting a 24-hour hold on C. Florida Week to bring you an important message: There's a really, really big basketball game tonight, and if you're in town you should be there.
USF takes on #7 Oklahoma State tonight at 7pm, bringing the highest ranked non-conference opponent to the Sun Dome since December 8th, 2001 (aka The Matt Bonner Game). Both teams are 4-0, but the Cowboys are a Final Four candidate led by the AP's only unanimous preseason All-American, Marcus Smart.
The Cowboys have rolled everyone they've played so far, including an impressive 101-80 beatdown of #11 Memphis last Tuesday. You can somewhat discount the three cupcakes they played before, but rolling a senior-laden Tigers team with such ease is pretty impressive. Smart was sublime with 39 points, five steals, four assists, and... look, just watch the SportsCenter highlight:
This kid can do it all. And everyone from Corey Allen to Martino Brock to a couple popcorn vendors is going to check him tonight. With the exception of one trip down the floor against Stetson (and I might have been delusional), we haven't seen USF play any zone this year whatsoever. Don't be surprised if the Bulls break it out to force OKSU to make jumpers on the road, or maybe even a junk defense (box & 1??) to try and slow down the super-athletic Cowboys.
Smart isn't the only Cowboys guard you need to worry about; senior Markel Brown had 20 against Memphis and is averaging 16.5 points per game on 55% shooting early this year. On the block, Brian Williams is averaging 11.3 per game on 65% from the floor, and Le'Bryan Nash is their leading rebounder at seven per contest.
But if you're buying a ticket, you're coming to see a guy who's going to buy real estate wherever Adam Silver's ping-pong balls tell him to next year. Smart is a truly special player, part of a 2014 NBA draft class that's projected to be one of the best in decades. But don't think this Bulls team can't hang around with the Pokes tonight... this is very much a contest.
Smart will be a really tough check, but USF might have the best defensive post player on the floor in John Egbunu. If the freshman can step up and control the paint defensively, it'll allow the Bulls to extend on the dangerous guards they're facing. Getting Smart and Brown to put it on the floor and take contested shots or drive into shotblockers like Egbunu and Chris Perry might be a good option. On offense, we should see a lot of drive and kick from Anthony Collins tonight. His ability to get low and get to the paint should help draw defenders, opening up perimeter 3's and high percentage shots for post players near the rim. Getting into a track meet with OKSU most likely isn't desirable, but look for the Bulls to run off turnovers where they can.
We haven't seen basically any promotion for this game around town, and just about zero buzz in the local media. But tonight should be an exciting and memorable college basketball game, and we don't have a lot of those around here. If you haven't seen a USF game this season, this isn't the Bulls you remember: the 13-14 squad is not afraid to run and has athletes all over the floor. They're an engaging bunch to watch and can score in bunches. And there's no better night to check them out before conference play than this one.
Go to the game. It will be fun, we promise.