A look at South Florida, and avoiding a season sweep

There may be people who feel that Villanova has a good chance Wednesday night in the second round of the Big East tournament against South Florida, believing that the Wildcats would not lose three times in the same season to the Bulls.

Well, that got us to thinking: How have the Wildcats done when they’ve had a third meeting in the same season against a Big East rival when they’ve either won or lost the first two games they’ve played?

Since Villanova joined the Big East in 1980-81, that situation has happened 25 times.

On 12 of those occasions, the Wildcats posted a two-game sweep of a season series against an opponent they also saw in the tournament. They’ve won the third game eight times and lost it four times, including the epic 83-80 triple-overtime loss to Syracuse in the 1981 championship game at the Carrier Dome.

The Wildcats dropped both games of a season series against an opponent they saw in the tournament on 12 occasions. Nine times they lost the third matchup and three times they won it.

The lone instance that the third meeting of a season did not happen in the Big East tournament is the one that Nova fans remember the best. Georgetown swept the Wildcats in the 1985 season series, but Villanova came back and defeated the Hoyas in the national championship game.

How this all fits in with trying to figure out Wednesday night’s result is a mystery. But the fact is the Bulls (19-12),who are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, took care of Villanova rather handily this season, winning 74-57 on Jan. 5 at the Pavilion and 65-51 in Tampa on Feb. 15.

Two common threads are that South Florida shot lights-out in the second half in both games – 58.3 percent in the first contest and 68.4 percent in the second – and Villanova was poor from the field – 34.4 percent and 30.2 percent – from start to finish.  

The Pavilion result was an eye-opener, especially since South Florida’s floor leader, point guard Anthony Collins, was knocked woozy and left the game after only 17 minutes. The Bulls outrebounded ‘Nova by 38-26 and ran away at the end.

Then, in Tampa, where the Wildcats played without the injured Maalik Wayns and lost James Bell midway through with an ankle injury, Villanova had to finish with a flurry just to get to 51 points.

South Florida led the Big East in points allowed (57.2 points per game) during the regular season but was dead last in scoring (59.5). The Bulls defend the three-point line (29.4 opponent percentage) very well.

The Bulls finished the regular season without a single player averaging double figures in scoring; Augustus Gilchrist led with a 9.9-point average. But five others came in at 7.5 points per game or better, and the team also shares the wealth in rebounding with Gilchrist, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Ron Anderson Jr., son of the former 76ers player.

South Florida is just 2-3 in the Big East tournament, with their most recent victory, 70-69, coming over Villanova in last year’s first round.

--Joe Juliano