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Squad looks for lucky No. 7

Bobby Griffin | Friday, January 19, 2007

If Irish coach Mike Brey’s teams have learned anything over the past few years, it’s that there are no givens once Big East play begins. That’s why the No. 20 Irish (15-3 overall, 3-2 in the conference) wont be looking past South Florida this Sunday at the Joyce Center.

South Florida (10-9 overall, 1-4 in-conference) is one of two teams with one win in the Big East. Rutgers is the other after dropping a 68-54 home contest against Georgetown Wednesday. Cincinnati is winless in three tries.

But in a league defined by parity, especially this season when seven teams have three or more wins, anything is possible when the ball is thrown in the air.

No. 6 Pittsburgh remains the only unbeaten team in conference play – just 19 days into January. Notre Dame was controlled from the start in its most recent game Wednesday at Villanova. The Wildcats dictated the tempo early and never allowed the Irish to recover in a 102-87 landslide.

The Irish had a similar performance at Georgetown Jan. 6 when it lost 66-48.

“We’ve had this cycle before, win by a good margin at home, lose by a good margin on the road,” Brey said in a radio interview following Notre Dame’s loss to Villanova. “They both count as just one league win and one league loss.”

And that attitude – focusing on Sunday’s home game against USF – is crucial before the Irish address their recent struggles on the road, Brey said.

South Florida’s lone conference win came against Cincinnati on Jan. 14. The Bulls lost contests at Connecticut, at Pittsburgh, home against Louisville and at West Virginia.

Last season, Notre Dame and South Florida matched up once, on Feb. 15 at the Joyce Center. The Irish won the game 62-55 and guard Russell Carter led the team with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting to go with five rebounds and three steals.

South Florida, despite being 0-10 in conference play at that point in the season, hung with the Irish and outscored them 36-31 after being dominated in the first half.

But that was last season.

This year, Notre Dame has a clear statistical advantage over South Florida. USF is among the bottom half of the conference in offensive categories such as scoring margin (plus 2.5, 13th) and scoring offense (66.9 points per game, 13th).

The Irish lead the conference in both categories. Notre Dame, though, despite showcasing an improved effort thus far this season working the ball inside – has still fired 416 attempts from 3-point range this season, which is second in the Big East behind West Virginia (491).

And South Florida’s strength defensively might very well be its perimeter defense. The Bulls hold their opponents to 32-percent shooting from 3-point range.

The Bulls have four players who average double figures in points per game – Melvin Buckley (16.4), Kentrel Gransberry (14.4), McHugh Mattis (12.7) and Solomon Bozeman (17.7).

Gransberry leads the team with 10.7 rebounds per game and Bozeman has 89 assists in 19 games this season. Mattis had 12 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes last season against the Irish.

Tip off is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Joyce Center Sunday.