USF suffered yet another disappointing loss on Saturday, this time at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 73-65 at the Sun Dome. Though it may seem there is little to learn after a loss this late in the year; here are five things to ponder after that loss:
1. These Freshmen Can Play
The USF rotation has changed drastically since Big East play has begun and one big change has been freshmen JaVontae Hawkins and Zach LeDay playing significant minutes. For those that doubted USF head coach Stan Heath's resolve in the talent of his youngsters, they got a good look at the potential of the young freshmen Saturday. LeDay had a brilliant game, posting a career high 17 points with four rebounds and at times out-playing Notre Dame's Jack Cooley, limiting the senior captain to just six points. LeDay showed a much improved midrange jump hook, converting on five of ten shots in 28 minutes. Hawkins, who has shown flashes of profound ability in the past three games, set a new career high with 11 points in 18 minutes. The Michigan native, who has started the past three games for the Bulls in place of Jawanza Poland was very efficient, making four of five shots.
2. Living on a Prayer (Of Making the Three)
It has been highly publicized that USF lacks size down low (something we will cover in another bullet point), but one thing the Bulls thought they'd do is shoot the ball well from deep. USF returned three of their top perimeter shooters from the 2011-12 season with Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, Victor Rudd and Sean Noriega, but they have struggled to shoot consistently from deep, converting just 27.1 percent in conference play. After a hot 5-11 start from deep against Notre Dame, the Bulls went cold in the second half, finishing just 1-10 and 6-21 for the game. This inconsistency has been one of the main reasons as to why the Bulls have started strong and faltered late. If USF can't somehow find their stroke, they are going to flounder the rest of the way in conference play.
3. Collins is One of the Best Point Guards in the BIG EAST
This may be another 'well, duh!' moment, but for the second time this year, USF point guard Anthony Collins was matched up with another top 15 point guard in the country against Notre Dame's Eric Atkins and AC clearly outdueled his counterpart. Collins led all scorers at half time with 10 points and is brandishing a much improved mid-to-deep range jumper. Collins finished the game against the Fighting Irish with 12 points, eight assists and just two turnovers, prompting Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey to describe Collins as "there is nobody in the Big East like him."
4. Where are the Upper Classmen?
For yet another game, USF received little contribution from redshirt junior Victor Rudd and senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick. The two gave the Bulls just 14 combined points (seven each) and five rebounds. Fitzpatrick has struggled in Big East play, averaging just 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 20 percent from the three-point line. Rudd leads the team in points in Big East play, averaging 9.7, but has combined for just 13 the past two games. If the Bulls are going to get some momentum going in Big East play, they are going to need the help of their two upperclassmen in Rudd and Fitzpatrick. Jawanza Poland's name could be mentioned here as well. The Kansas State transfer didn't score against Notre Dame but has led the Bulls in scoring each of previous three games. All in all, it is going to take a village (or a group effort) for the Bulls to compete consistently the rest of the season.
5. Rebounding is Still a Major Problem
Probably a problem that isn't going away any time soon, the Bulls lack size and depth down low and continue to get out rebounded on a nightly basis. The Fighting Irish doubled up the Bulls on the boards, edging out USF 34-17 down low. This season, the Bulls have been outrebounded 668-593, which averages to a -4.2 rebounding margin. Big East play has been substantially worse for the Bulls, who have a -13.8 rebounding margin. This large discrepancy on the boards limits USF's second chances on possessions and makes their low shooting percentage, especially from deep, an even bigger problem.
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