Plus Gus fuss: Bulls must keep chemistry strong
There are two challenges awaiting USF's men's basketball team in Milwaukee today -- the first, obviously, is beating a Marquette team that has won four straight Big East games, albeit against teams in the bottom six of the league standings.
The second, as much a key to the final month of the regular season, is finding a way to integrate talented forward Gus Gilchrist, the team's leading scorer in the first eight games before severely spraining his ankle, back into the Bulls lineup without disrupting the team's chemistry.
A healthy Gilchrist gives USF many things -- a true complementary scorer to take pressure and opposing defensive focus away from star guard Dominique Jones, much-needed depth and size in the post and perhaps the team's best 3-point threat.
"He gives you a guy on the post who can score. He gives you a guy who is our best three-point shooter, so he gives us that spacing guy," said coach Stan Heath, warning that it may take time for Gilchrist to return to full strength. "When you go on the road, it is great to have that guy that can score around the basket for you. It is great to have another offensive weapon. I think it is a plus. I think that for the stretch run, as he gets better and better it is a huge jolt for our team."
Freshman Toarlyn Fitzpatrick has held his own as a starter in Gilchrist's absence, and he'll likely play comparable minutes to Gilchrist initially, with both expected to play more than 20 minutes tonight. Can Gilchrist's strong numbers from nonconference play hold up against Big East competition? Gilchrist averaged 18.8 points per game, hit 8 of 11 attempts from 3-point range and had at least six rebounds in every game. He also hit 81 percent of his free throws, a clear upgrade from Fitzpatrick, who has hit 53 percent this season.
The only hurdle is working Gilchrist back into the flow of the team without disrupting the chemistry that has helped the Bulls to five Big East wins in their last six games.
"It's kind of scary, because you don't know what to expect," said point guard Chris Howard, who has just four turnovers in the last five games. "But at the same time I'm comfortable and believe in my teammates and I believe Dominique's going to take his game even higher and with Gus coming in, it's going to open things up for everybody else. So I'm confident about the situation."
The Bulls return home to face Cincinnati on Tuesday night, their first home game since upsetting then No. 7 Georgetown on Feb. 3.