Updated Sat, Mar 17, 2012 7:09 pm
After a scan of South Florida's numbers on the season and seeing them beat #5 Temple in Nashville Friday night, here are a couple keys for Ohio to get to the Sweet 16.
Speed It Up- South Florida plays an ugly brand of basketball, which is put-the-bag-over-your-face hideous at times. The Bulls average just under 60 points per game and are 0-9 when scoring less than 50 points. USF allows 56 per game, which is seventh-best nationally. Fans shouldn't expect to see a lot of points in this one. The Bulls only allowed three opponents to score more than 70 points this season (Kansas, Providence, Georgetown), and held the opposition to under 50 points seven times (7-0 in those games).
The highest scoring game in which the Bulls have played was a 81-78 win against Providence on Jan. 29, and that was only one of two games where either team (USF or its opponent) hit the 80-point plateau.
With all of the above noted, pace is huge. Ohio players say they are looking to push any chance they get, but also believe they can play slow.
"We know a fast-paced game is to our advantage and it's crucial for us to push the pace in order to get this win," junior forward Reggie Keely said. "We want the game in the high 60s, high 70s."
Cooper, the one who will push the pace, also agreed getting out and running will be key.
"We got to try to get as many easy buckets as possible. As many times as we can get in transition, that's good for us."
But Walter Offutt dismissed the "Ohio can only win if it plays fast" theory.
"We can play slow as well. We can grind it out. We showed that. If it gets stuck in a half-court game, we can execute our sets."
Force Turnovers...And Capitalize- South Florida doesn't do a fantastic job of taking care of the ball. Ohio is excellent at forcing turnovers. The Bulls average 13.6 turnovers per game with a turnover margin in the red at minus-2.5 a game, while the Bobcats are third in the country in forcing turnovers (17.1 per game) and fifth in steals (9.5 per game).
This stat could be amplified in the battle between the point guards. Anthony Collins, USF's primary ball handler, has dished 155 assists but has turned it over 105 times. Ohio's Dj Cooper is tied for 16th in the country with 2.31 steals per game. This could be a match-up Cooper looks to exploit, and forcing turnovers helps force Ohio's up-tempo style.
Ohio forced 10 turnovers in Friday's win over Michigan, including six steals, but the 'Cats failed to score in transition against the Wolverines. Getting steals and turnovers is one thing, but if the Bobcats come up empty, the turnovers don't help much.
Make a Few Threes- This game has a bit of the Akron/Ohio feel to it when speaking about defending from deep. South Florida is 10th in the nation at guarding the three-point line, Ohio is not far behind at 14th. The Bobcats/Zips contest featured the conference's two best defenders of the arc, and that game saw a combined 18-33 shooting performance from deep. With points most likely being at a premium in Sunday's game, each three-pointer could feel like a four-point boost. On Friday, South Florida shot 8-17 from three-point land (47 percent, up 15 points from its season average), and Ohio shot 6-16 from beyond the arc. A huge advantage goes to the hot team from deep.
Fresher Legs- South Florida is playing its third game in five days, Ohio is playing its second. Six or seven Bulls play significant minutes each game, Ohio routinesly goes nine deep. The Bobcats should have the fresher legs. Keely agrees.
"We know they played three games in four days. We got to really wear on them throughout the game."
"I thought last time around, we ran out of gas and certainly Tennessee had a lot to do with that," Groce said, of Ohio's 2010 NCAA Tournament run. "[Tennessee was] a really good team. We have to get our rest now. We have to eat, hydrate, take care of our bodies and minds.
"I'm one of those guys that believes this time of year...that's as or more important than Xs and Os. I know our staff will have our kids ready to play."
#12 South Florida and #13 Ohio tip off at 7:10 EST from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Follow @BobcatShowcase for updates throughout the game and check in at WOUB.org/sports after the game for the reactions, recaps, and analysis.