Win at Louisville makes South Florida an NCAA tourney lock

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If you were reluctant to include South Florida in your field of 68 heading into tonight, an omission now just makes you look silly.

Winners of five of their last six – with the only “L” on the road to Syracuse – the Bulls confidence level continues to rise after an impressive 58-52 victory over No.  19 Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center tonight.

Now clear of the nerve-racking “last four in” territory, the Bulls should be considered as an NCAA Tournament lock, even if the way they get wins isn’t very aesthetically pleasing.

Ranked first in the Big East in points allowed (57.5), Stan Heath’s club continued playing stifling defense and held Cardinals to 34.8 percent shooting, extending a streak of keeping teams below 35 percent from the floor to seven games.

What sparked the big win?

Down two with more than eight minutes to play, the Bulls held the Cardinals to just one point over the next five minutes. South Florida reclaimed the lead, pushing it to six points, and kept Louisville at bay until the final buzzer with clutch free-throw shooting.

Offensively, this is not a team that jumps out at you.

Tonight, no starter scored in double figures, a statistic that leans towards the rule rather than the exception. The Bulls leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist, who pumps in a cool 10 points a game, scored just eight points tonight on 4-9 shooting, while reserve guard Jawanza Poland poured in 16-points.

Clearly this team is not an offensive juggernaut, nor to they have a terribly threatening go-to guy. But if you’re a Bulls fan, do you care?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and your team hasn’t been dancing since 1992. As far as you’re concerned, Heath’s approach is absolute poetry in motion.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.