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February 23, 2013

Preview: USF at #21 Syracuse

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The USF Bulls (18-7, 7-5) look to post back-to-back wins over Top 25 teams this afternoon, taking on No. 21 Syracuse (22-3, 10-2) at the Sun Dome after a 73-62 win at No. 12 Louisville.

USF is continuing to make its case for the NCAA Tournament, winning four of its last five contests and sitting in the 6th spot in the Big East standings. The Bulls will try to catch No. 12 Louisville (9-4) and St. John's (8-4) as they fight for the best seeing possible in the upcoming Big East tournament. Syracuse can still catch undefeated No. 2 Notre Dame and one-loss No. 3 UConn if the team finishes out its final four games on a strong note.

This is the only meeting between these two teams this season.

Three Keys to the Game

  1. Make those shots count, and make sure they're worth taking. Syracuse is 15th in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (opponent field-goal percentage of 34), and 9th in the nation in blocked shots per game (5.8 average). The Orange show no mercy towards those teams who don't make the most of their time on offense.
  2. Don't allow any big runs. The Bulls allowed Louisville to build momentum when it seemed to have none by letting the Cardinals go on a 10-0 run near the end of the first half. Though USF would go on to recover in that match, there is no guarantee the Bulls could do the same against a Syracuse offense that capitalizes on the smallest mistake.
  3. Watch the personal fouls. True to USF's average of 17.8 personal fouls per game, six players had three or more personal fouls against Louisville; Andrea Smith, the game's leading scorer, had four. The Bulls cannot afford to lose key players due to fouling out against a team of Syracuse's caliber.
  4. The Matchup

    For a team that only has three losses on the season, an AP ranking of 21 and a RPI of 36 seems a bit low for Syracuse. Indeed, there are teams with considerably worse records that stand before them in both of these rankings. The Orange are undefeated at home, and the only bad loss the squad has had came against No. 3 UConn; however, UConn is the only ranked team that Syracuse has faced this season. Still, the Orange are 14th in the country in scoring offense with 74.4 points per game, outscore their opponents by an average of over 19 points, and currently find themselves in third place in the Big East standings.

    The Bulls have a lot to feel good about after getting their first win over a ranked team this season, but just because Syracuse is ranked lower than Louisville doesn't mean this match will be any easier. USF has the offense to keep up with Syracuse, averaging just 2.4 points per game less than their opponent; however, there will be a struggle to contain the offensive firepower that the Orange can generate. The Bulls do have a notable advantage from the three-point line, and will need to build on their 34.7 percent accuracy if they hope to take advantage of one of the few areas the Orange struggle in.

    Players to Watch

    After a few self-admitted "bad games", Andrea Smith came back in a big way against Louisville by scoring nearly half of the points that USF accumulated during the contest. Matching a career-high 35 points, Smith also went a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line and shot over 68 percent from the field. Smith, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 17 points per game, seems to be heating up again at just the right time for her squad. She will have opponents watching her closely in the hopes that they might stop her from getting to the basket.

    Syracuse's senior center Kayla Alexander will almost certainly be the player that gives the Bulls the most trouble. Alexander is the Orange's all-time leading scorer and is averaging 17.2 points per game this season. Perhaps more impressive than her offensive prowess is her ability as a two-way player, as she blocks 3.4 shots per game (Syracuse as a team averages 5.8) which is good for sixth in the nation. With 28 career double-doubles, Alexander is a proven force to be reckoned with and this game should be no different.

    The game can be seen at 2 p.m. on Big East Network and Bright House Sports Network, streamed online at BigEast.org, and heard on 1010-AM.



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