By: Shane McCarthy
To say that South Florida was a pleasant surprise last year is a vast understatement. They more than doubled their win total from the previous year (10 to 22) and quadrupled their conference win total (3 to 12). That is unprecedented for a team that had been a perennial bottom feeder in the mighty Big East since joining the conference in 2005.
Anthony Collins –G– Soph – 32.7 Min, 9.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 5.2 apg
Victor Rudd Jr. –F– Junior – 27.7 Min, 9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.3 apg
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick –F– Senior – 25.5 Min, 8.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.9 apg
Jawanza Poland –G– Senior – 22.0 Min, 8.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.8 apg
Shaun Noriega –G– Senior – 11.9 Min, 3.6 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 0.3 apg
Jordan Omogbehin –C– Redshirt Freshman – 7-3 291
JaVontae Hawkins – [Small Forward] – 6 foot 5, 202
ESPN’s 33rd ranked Small Forward
Rivals.com’s 117th ranked player and 25th ranked Small Forward
Zach LeDay – [Power Forward] – 6 foot 7, 223
ESPN’s 52nd ranked Power Forward
Musa Abdul-Aleem – [Shooting Guard] – 6 foot 5, 221
As member of Georgia Perimeter College last year, Musa was named Freshman Player of the Year in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association. He averaged 14.7 ppg and 5.5 rpg and was named team MVP. Musa was a highly recruited JUCO transfer who has deep range and excellent slashing ability.
Martino Brock – [Guard] – 6 foot 5, 205
During the 2010-11 season at South Alabama, Brock was seventh in scoring in the Sun Belt Conference with 14.2 ppg and fourth in steals with 1.7 spg. He was forced to sit out last year per NCAA transfer rules.
Kore White – [Forward] – Senior – 6 foot 8, 241
During two seasons at Florida Atlantic, Kore averaged 8.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg. He will be immediately available this season to provide front court depth for the Bulls.
Who’s Out: Augustus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson Jr., Hugh Robertson, Blake Nash
The Bulls are coming off an extraordinary season in which they reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992 and only third time in the history of the university. And if that wasn’t exciting enough – they not only got their first ever tournament victory (two actually), but they fell two possessions short after a late 10-0 run by Ohio of reaching the Sweet 16.
Last year was a fun ride for South Florida and their fans to say the least, but I do not expect that success to spill over to the upcoming season.
Not to take anything away from the Bulls, and all the credit to them, because they were able to take advantage of a downtrodden Big East conference last year. But they did struggle against the top of the conference.
South Florida finished tied for 4th in the conference with Georgetown and Cincinnati, and behind Notre Dame, Marquette and Syracuse. Against these five teams they went 1-4. They were 11-2 against the rest of the conference, including two wins each over Pittsburgh and Villanova. In years past those would have been great wins, but Pitt and Nova had abnormally poor seasons last year.
But the Bulls had no control over their schedule or the quality of their opponents. They took care of business and beat teams they should have beaten (and even defeated Louisville at Louisville) to earn a Tournament berth. However, even the selection committee was skeptical as they placed them in the quasi ‘play in’ game early in the week. Nonetheless, they proved doubters wrong by beating California, followed up by Temple, before losing a close one to Ohio to prove to the country that they belonged.
This year I do not see them repeating last year’s success. Not because they got worse, but because the rest of the conference is going to be better. The Big East was still one of the most difficult conferences in the nation last year, but some of the usual contenders (Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Villanova) were far from their usual self’s.
Even though the Bulls lost three starters, they still have a solid core in Anthony Collins, Victor Rudd and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick.
We should expect this team to be able to defend at a high level again, but will they be able to score? Scoring 59 points per game with a menacing defense may have worked last year, but my intuition tells me that can only work once in a while.
This is where incoming transfers Musa Abdul-Aleem and Martino Brock will be looked upon – helping in the scoring department. And this team will likely go as far as Anthony Collins takes it. Otherwise, it seems likely to expect the status quo.
Maybe South Florida will prove me wrong by morphing into an up-tempo team that can fill the basket. Every year is different, and this team is a bit deeper and more versatile than last year's. But why drastically change something that worked so well last year? Maybe Coach Heath is thinking the same way I am and knows that they must score a lot more than last year. And that this year’s team is poised to do just that with Collins, Rudd and the transfers.
If that's the case, and they somehow don't have a significant drop-off on the defensive end, then my outlook is likely off. But this is a prediction piece, and I predict that they will play a similar style to last year. With that, they are due for a regression as the overall talent pool in the Big East is slated for an improvement.