TAMPA, Fla. — Thursday night marks the beginning of a four-game road swing for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, one that will eventually take them to the other side of the country for a pair of games in the state of Washington.
Up first, the Wildcats have a rematch from last season with the South Florida Bulls. Bethune-Cookman squandered a 19-point lead last season, and ultimately fell in overtime to the Bulls, 79-73. Thursday night marks the 16th meeting between the Wildcats and South Florida, with the Bulls holding a 14-1 advantage in the all-time series.
The Wildcats enter the game on the heels of a 67-53 win over the Cal Poly Mustangs in their last outing, and have won four of their last six contests. On the flip side, the Bulls enter Thursday night on a four-game losing streak, and are looking to get back on the right track.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Thursday night’s showdown inside the USF Sun Dome.
It’s safe to say that the start of the 2017-18 season hasn’t gone as planned for the Bulls. Five of their six losses have come by double digits, including three of the four games in their current losing streak. South Florida’s last win came back on November 24th, an 11-point win over the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
In the off-season leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, South Florida added a trip of graduate transfers, in Stephan Jiggetts, Payton Banks, and Terrence Samuel. All three have been key factors in the rotation for South Florida, and are the only three players to average more than 30 minutes per game through 10 contests.
The big issue for South Florida has been their scoring offense. As a team, the Bulls are averaging a mere 62.7 points per game, which ranks them in a tie for 341st in the nation. They have been held below 60 points on three occasions, and haven’t scored more than 79 points in a game this season. On the flip side, they rank tied for 81st in the NCAA in terms of scoring defense, allowing 67.0 points per contest.
On the flip side, the Wildcats have one the better scoring offenses in the nation, while they rank in the bottom third in terms of scoring defense.
Bethune-Cookman averages 81.0 points per game, which is tied for the 72nd-best mark in the country. They have scored 80+ points on four occasions this season, and are 3-1 in those games. On defense, they allow an average of 76.0 points per game, which is tied for 249th in the NCAA. The teams present opposite situations on both ends of the floor, and it will be interesting to see which one wins out on Thursday.
Where the Wildcats do hold a distinct advantage is on the glass. They pull down an average of 42.4 rebounds per contest, which ranks 12th in the NCAA. They have nine players who have seen action in at least seven games this season and are averaging at least 2.2 rebounds per contest. Shawntrez Davis is averaging a team-high 9.3 boards per game, and he has six double-doubles to his name so far this season.
Compare that to South Florida, who averages 35.8 rebounds per game, and the Wildcats will look to use their strength on the glass on both ends and turn that into points on offense.
Three Players to Watch
The aforementioned Davis, who was committed to the Nevada Wolf Pack at one time before ultimately signing with the Wildcats, is among the nation’s leaders in double-doubles. His six such performances rank him eighth in the entire NCAA in that category, while he leads all players from the MEAC. The 6’9”, 220-pound forward is averaging 15.0 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds per contest this season, and will look to put forth another strong performance in a favourable match-up.
Tulio Da Silva
This off-season, we tabbed Da Silva as our #Underrated351 player for the Bulls in a Twitter thread. So far in 2017-18, he’s been the Bulls’ top rebounder, averaging 7.0 rebounds to go along with 8.6 points per contest. During South Florida’s current losing streak, Da Silva has been non-existent on offense, totaling 13 points in the four games. If South Florida wants to come away with a win on Thursday, they will need to get more than just rebounds out of the 6’7” Da Silva. That may be easier said than done, as he will likely be matched up with Davis at times throughout the game.
In the absence of Brandon Tabb last time out, Maitland went for a game-high 21 points in the Wildcats’ win over Cal Poly. It was his second straight game with 20 or more points, and he will look to continue that trend against a South Florida team that’s tough on defense. For Maitland, he doesn’t necessarily need to score to have a positive impact on the game. He’s averaging a team-high 5.5 assists per game this season, and has recorded three or more assists in each of his past seven games. Add in his 12.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and Maitland can impact the game on many different levels.
Bethune-Cookman didn’t win five games last season until February 6th. They’ve got five wins to their name already this season, and are trending in the right direction. South Florida, on the other hand, is heading in the opposite direction, having dropped four straight, all to teams from outside of the power conferences.
The Wildcats have the momentum behind them, and while going on the road is no easy task, it’s a winnable game for Ryan Ridder and company. If the Wildcats can hit their shots from three point range, and Tabb returns to the lineup, they could very well kick off their four game road trip with a win.
Look for South Florida to come out with an edge, as they look to get back on the right track. They will need a big game from Da Silva and company inside if they want to score a much-needed win over Bethune-Cookman. The recent track record of Da Silva, and the team as a whole over the last four games, leads to more questions than answers surrounding the Bulls.
With the way both teams are trending, and the fact that the Wildcats have better statistical averages than the Bulls in every major category, outside of scoring defense, the struggles will continue for South Florida.
South Florida: 70
– T. Bennett