How Gus’s Return Might Be a Problem

February 2, 2010

“Really?” you’re saying. “Really? How could Gus Gilchrist possibly screw this thing up?”

Well, it’s possible, and not because of anything Gus might do. While Gus has been out with his sprained ankle, USF may have come upon their best strategy. During their recent surge the Bulls have basically played four guards – Dominique Jones, Chris Howard, Mike Mercer, and the new guy Anthony Crater – along with either Jarrid Famous or Taurean Fitzpatrick at the 5. When they want or need to go a little bigger, they put both Fitz and Famous in the game and sit Mercer (who is basically playing the 4 in this arrangement). Fitz and Famous aren’t really bangers, which kills them inside, especially on defense and on the boards at both ends. But it spreads the floor nicely on offense and lets all those guards get to the basket. During the Pittsburgh game the Bulls constantly ran plays with no one in the paint, waiting for the chance to break someone down off the dribble or cut into an open spot.

There’s no question Gus helps on defense. He helps get Famous and/or Fitzpatrick out of the middle and out on the wings, even letting them man up against a forward or swingman. It’s like getting two defenders back. And then you don’t have to have DoJo crashing the rim after the shot goes up, trying to get rebounds. (It also can help keep him out of foul trouble, which is crucial because the team doesn’t have the depth to play at this level in this style if anyone fouls out.) He can collect outlet passes and push the ball.┬áBut on offense, it would really slow USF’s roll if they are tempted to drop him into the paint and start feeding him the ball like a traditional center. Gus can play away from the rim, but he’s also been the only big who is well-suited to playing in the post.

I give Stan Heath credit for figuring out the best way to win without Gus – go small or very small, get to the rim when defenses are playing man, and either hit the dead spots in zones or try to shoot teams out of them. (I think Heath actually did this sooner, but before Crater became eligible to play, they didn’t have enough quality guards to pull it off.) The question is, will he take the bait and put Gus back down low, or fit him into the new style and play to the team’s strengths on both ends of the floor? I’ve avoided making a solid opinion on Heath’s coaching acumen up to now because it really didn’t matter – the talent wasn’t there to win unless the league decided USF games could be like Tom Crean’s old Marquette practices where they played 5-on-8. But how he handles Gus’s return to the lineup, whenever that is, will be critical. They cannot go back to playing old-style Big East basketball and get where they want to go.

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