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Milwaukee-The USF men's basketball team pays a visit to Milwaukee Wisconsin tonight, where the Bulls will on the No. 25 Marquette Golden Eagles. Tipoff from the Bradley Center is set for 9:00.
The Bulls are coming off of a 73-65 loss at home to Notre Dame. This was their fifth defeat in six games. The loss dropped USF's conference record to 1-6 and 10-9 overall. The Golden Eagles are fresh off of a 10-point, 81-71 victory over the Providence Friars. Marquette is 14-4 with a 5-1 record in Big East play.
USF is winless on the road against Big East opponents this season. The Bulls' average margin of defeat is 12 points in their three road conference losses to Louisville, Rutgers and Seton Hall.
The key for USF tonight is to shoot the ball well. The Bulls are as streaky as they get when it comes to field goal percentage. They are near the bottom of the NCAA in most offensive categories including points per game, rebounds per game, and field goal percentage.
The Bulls average just 61.7 points a game, compared to Marquette's 70.5. Something that has been a glaring weakness all season has been rebounding. USF was doubled up on the glass, 34-17 against Notre Dame. In conference play, the Bulls have a rebounding margin of -13, which is a key reason why they have struggled against their Big East foes.
Against Notre Dame, we saw freshman Zach LeDay take charge and score 17 points, a new career high. Expect to see more of LeDay and fellow freshman Javontae Hawkins. Both freshmen have been pleasant surprises this season, and have taken playing time away from seniors like Kore White.
For USF to get their first conference road victory of the season, the Bulls need to shoot the ball with consistency. In the first half against the Irish, the Bulls shot almost 61%. However, in the second half, USF shot just 38% and were 1-10 from three-point land. With the lack of a postgame, it is imperative that the Bulls make their open shots when they have them.
Even though LeDay and Hawkins stepped up in the previous game, the Bulls will need serious contributions from their seniors. Jawanza Poland, the team's leading scorer, didn't score against Notre Dame and only attempted two field goals. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick was 1-5 from three point range and Victor Rudd was just 1-3.
Defense has been the only thing USF has been able to fall back on this season. And even now, its starting to become a weakness. The Irish were able to shoot 54% from the field in the 73-65 win vs USF.
Marquette is led by juniors Vander Blue and Davante Gardner, both average over 13 points per game. Gardner is a huge body down low, standing at 6-8 290 pounds. He averages 5.7 rebounds per game. LeDay was very physical with Jack Cooley. It didn't effect Cooley's rebound numbers, but LeDay was able to hold the Irish star to a season low in points. Expect more of that from LeDay tonight.
USF has a tough test tonight, clearly. They cannot afford to fall to 1-7 in conference play. It easier said than done, but the Bulls need to force turnovers, rebound the basketball, and shoot with consistency from the field. If they don't, it will be a long night for Stan Heath and his team.