Well folks, one of the biggest match ups of the year is upon us when our trusty Dons (5-13 overall; 1-2 conference) take on the mighty nationally ranked (24th USA Today/ESPN; 26th AP Top 25) St. Mary's Gaels of Moraga (16-2 overall; 3-0 conference) this Saturday, January 26.
Coming off of a tough loss against the always strong Gonzaga team, our Dons, despite falling behind in the first half, managed to scrap together a solid 20 second half minutes to split the second half, 35 points a piece. Looking at the Gonzaga box score, it's readily apparent the Dons need to do a much better job of taking care of the ball against St. Mary's. Gonzaga posted 12 steals, which accounted for USF's 13 turnovers. USF must also play together better as a team, improving their passing and finding big men down upon the block. They only posted 10 assists, as opposed to 16 assists by Gonzaga. One positive note is USF shot .850 from the free throw line. If the St. Mary's game gets close, help from the charity stripe will definitely give USF an edge.
Overall, though, USF faces a tough challenge. St. Mary's leads the West Coast Conference in 10 key conference statistics. I won't go into all of them, but examples include: Scoring (78.4 ppg), Opponents points allowed (62.2 ppg), Rebounding (38.7 rpg), and Assists (15.06 apg). While I won't go into the details of where USF places, I'll just say that there's a statistical reason why USF is 5th in the WCC and St. Mary's is tied for first (with Gonzaga).
St. Mary's is led by freshman sensation (and WCC player of the year candidate), Patrick Mills, who is averaging team highs of 14.8 ppg, 4.2 apg, and 1.7 steals per game. He is backed up by a fairly balanced front court, which averages a combined 33.3 ppg and 20.9 rpg.
USF is led by forward Dior Lowhorn, who is averaging 20.6 ppg and 7.4 rpg. He is supported by guard, Manny Quezada, who is averaging 15.3 ppg, but has a terrible assist/turnover ratio (.88, in comparison, Patty Mills has a 1.45 a/to ratio. Quite simply, USF is facing, likely, their toughest match up of the year.
Still, USF did get a road win against Portland on Jan. 19 (albeit a very lowly team- tied for 6th in the WCC), and came up just barely short against Gonzaga. If USF can build on that momentum, make a few corrections with their team offense, and surprise St. Mary's by getting off to a quick start, they might be able to pull off an upset. It'll be tough, but it's possible. Until next time, Go Dons!