Matchup: South Florida (10-6, 1-2 Big East) at Providence (10-5, 1-2)
Rankings: South Florida, #66 in Pomeroy Rankings (9th of 16 in Big East); Providence, #72 (11th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Providence, 77-73 in 69 possessions
Upset possibility: 36%
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Providence Friars ripped apart a porous South Florida defense on the perimeter and the offensive glass Saturday evening at the Dunkin Donuts Center, breezing to an 86-70 blowout victory that kept the Bulls winless on the road in their three seasons of Big East play.
Providence shot a remarkable 13-of-21 from long range, using excellent ball rotation along the perimeter and kickouts after dribble penetration to create open looks throughout in a game that was essentially over at the half. When Providence did occasionally miss, a Friar corraled the rebound and scored on the put-back. Providence rebounded 17 of its 29 field goal misses, a stunning percentage considering the presence of South Florida's big 6'9" senior Kentrell Gransberry, the nation's second-leading rebounder and a demon on the defensive glass.
Gransberry came into the game having notched 11 or more rebounds in five straight games, and trailing only Kansas State's Michael Beasley with 11.5 boards per game. He was wiped clean off the glass thanks to a deep rotation of large Friar bodies which came in off the Providence bench to tangle with the 270-pound forward.
"We kept Gransberry in check pretty much until down the stretch," Providence coach Tim Welsh said. "We used our fouls against him. That was our game plan, to keep rotating bigs on him, and throw the house at him in certain spots on the floor."
Gransberry collected just six boards, tied for a season-low. He had just two during the first half, when the Friars took over the tempo and built what proved to be a commanding 12-point lead.
"Well, shoot, they were making half of [their shots]," Gransberry said of the Friars, who posted a 63 eFG% on the night. "If the rebounds aren't there, I can't force it and go over the back. Maybe it was [that] two guys were on me. If it's just not my night rebounding, it's not my night. I can't force it."
USF kept it close until late in the first half, trailing just 30-28 with 4:12 remaining. Providence then ran off a 13-3 run to head into the break, essentially putting the game away. A three-pointer by guard Dwain Williams--which resulted from a defensive breakdown that left the guard wide open in the corner--kicked off the run. The surge was capped by two more three-point plays: a driving layup-and-one by guard Jeff Xavier, and another conventional trifecta by 6'8" point forward Geoff McDermott after a crucial offensive rebound kept the possession alive.
Providence picked up where it had left off to open the second half, expanding its lead to 20 points, 63-43, with 12:18 remaining. The advantage reached a high of 23 on a dunk by McDermott with five minutes remaining.
"McDermott had a heck of a game," said South Florida coach Stan Heath, who is in his first year leading the Bulls after being fired by Arkansas. "[He's] just a tough matchup for us. He did what he wanted to do, whether it was driving the ball, passing, or even at times posting up. To complement that the guys finished the plays outside, hit shots."
McDermott led all scorers with a career-high 24 points on 8-of-10 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from deep. South Florida's man-to-man defensive scheme had no way of stopping the talented swingman, who was able to drive and score in the paint when the Bulls put a smaller defender on him, and went back beyond the arc to hit from long range when he was guarded by a big man. The turnover prone McDermott--he committed 111 in 31 games last year, and this season had 51 in 15 contests prior to Saturday--coughed it up only once, part of a superb night handling the ball for the Friars, who lost the rock just seven times.
On the other side of the court, Providence frustrated South Florida's normally-potent offense with its 2-3 zone, pressuring the ball at three-quarters court and collapsing on defensive rebounds. The Bulls grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first 13 minutes of the first half, when the game was still close, but were able to reach just five the rest of the way.
"We kind of shut them down from getting second-shot attempts. That was the key, because then we can get our running game going, we can space the court better, stretch the defense and be able to get the ball inside," Welsh said.
Williams and Jeff Xavier, a junior transfer from Manhattan playing his first season with Providence, each scored 16 for the Friars, with Xavier adding six assists. The pair of guards combined to hit 8-of-13 from three-point range.
Gransberry led the Bulls with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor and 6-of-8 from the line, but he was the only South Florida player to get anything going, as the rest of the team was only 14-of-36 on field goals. James, the first-year dynamo who led the Bulls with a 16.4 scoring average and 56 eFG% entering Saturday, was largely invisible in his 31 minutes on the court, scoring a quiet 10.
"I don't think our defense was up to par, I don't think we played as hard as we needed," Heath said. "[But] they still shouldn't shoot 62 percent [from three]. That's an incredible number. I'm not sure guys can do that with no defense on them."
The Bulls, now 1-3 in the Big East, fell to 5-31 overall in their three years of playing in the power conference. Providence leveled its conference record at 2-2, while improving to 8-0 at home this season and 24-3 in its last 27 games at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.