At the moment, UConn is in good standing for next month's NCAA Tournament. Despite the Huskies being just 7-8 against the RPI Top-100, they have three wins over teams within the Top-50 in the RPI (vs. SMU, at Texas, vs. Tulsa) and have yet to register a bad loss.
The latter comes very much into play on Thursday, when UConn (19-8 overall, 9-5 American; #25 per KenPom) heads to Tampa to take on South Florida (7-21, 4-11; #218 per KenPom) at the USF Sun Dome (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
UConn is a perfect 12-0 versus schools outside the RPI Top-100, but things could get interesting rather quickly should it fall to USF, who is playing its best basketball of the season right now. In fact, the Bulls are seeking their first three-game winning streak since reeling off three straight victories to open the 2014-2015 campaign.
After going back and watching USF's 80-71 win over Memphis on Saturday, it's clear that the Bulls look much better than a team that has won just 25% of their games this year.
Freshman point guard Jahmal McMurray (15.7 PPG) is the reigning AAC Rookie of the Week, and if it weren't for Memphis' Dedric Lawson, McMurray would have a plausible chance of winning AAC Rookie of the Year.
6-foot-11 center Jaleel Cousins (8.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG)âyes, the younger brother of NBA superstar Demarcusâhas come a long way in a short span and appears to be in the best shape of his life.
Also, Orlando Antigua can really coach. Antigua, who served as an assistant under John Calipari at both Memphis and Kentucky, is in his second year running the show at USF. The time to beat up on South Florida is now, because soon, Antigua will flaunt his other reputable trait: The man can recruit with the best of them.
Yes, the Bulls are the 6th-worst three-point shooting team in the land (28.2%), are ranked 282nd in KenPom's Adjusted Offensive Efficiency rankings (out of 351 D-1 teams), and post one of the worst turnovers margins in America.
But they're also playing with a ton of confidence right now, which is something that can't be quantified.
The Numbers Game
Talk about a freshman being thrown right into the fire. When Maryland transfer Roddy Peters went down in December with a broken left foot, McMurray suddenly became the only capable point guard remaining on USF's roster.
As a result, McMurray has averaged 35.7 minutes per game this season, playing a larger percentage of his team's minutes that any player in the American Conference. He has shined in the spotlight, exhibiting a tight handle, crafty midrange game, and scorers' mentality that is not unlike former Xavier Musketeer and NBA player Jordan Crawford.
Down the road, McMurray needs to work on improving his shot selectionâthe leading free-throw shooter percentage-wise (88.9%) in the AAC shouldn't be attempting just 2.4 freebies per gameâbut future stardom is very realistic for the 6-foot, 175-pound floor general. Not bad for a kid whose best offer coming out of high school was USF; a lot of programs seem to have missed the boat on McMurray.
USF senior Nehemias Morillo is a major reason for the Bulls' recent surge. Averaging just under nine points per game on 35.7% shooting on the year, Morillo has exploded over the last three outings, going for 17.7 points on a blistering 61% shooting. Morillo is also very active in USF's zone, which is its primary defensive look.
3-0-5 may be the area code for Miami, but it also represents the weight that Cousins ballooned to in junior college. He plays at a much more limber 255 pounds nowadays, which is the driving force in his 25.1 minutes-per-night average (he logged just 11.5 minutes per game in 2014-2015). It also helps to explain how Cousins, who failed to score in double-figures a single time last season, has already posted eight double-doubles this year. In league games only, Cousins ranks within the Top-5 in the AAC in Offensive Rebounding Rate (15.2%), Defensive Rebounding Rate (20.9%), Block Percentage (6.2%), Fouls Drawn per 40 minutes (5.5), and FT Rate (72.0%; measures how often one gets to the FT line).
While he most likely won't be putting up 27 and 11 in the NBA anytime soon like his older brother, the evolution of Jaleel Cousins has been fun to watch, and one would be inclined to think that he has parlayed his ascension into a six-figure contract overseas.