South Florida Bulls
Overall Rank: #139
Conference Rank: #15 Big East
2008-09: 9-22, 4-14
2008-09 postseason: none
Coach: Stan Heath (21-41 at South Florida, 133-118 overall)
It may not sound impressive, but South Florida’s four wins in conference play was pretty impressive for this group. Sure two of those wins were against DePaul, but the team managed to beat then eighth ranked Marquette and added a victory over Cincinnati as well. The Bulls are not going to get into the top half of the Big East any time soon, but at least Coach Stan Heath appears to be moving the program in the right direction.
Key Losses: F B.J. Ajayi, G Jesus Verdejo, F Aris Williams
The biggest problem for South Florida is getting talented players to come and get whipped on by the rest of the Big East. Shooting guard Shaun Noriega is a decent player, as is power forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, but it is doubtful that those two will make much of an impact as freshmen. Mike Burwell, Jarrid Famous and Jordan Dumars, son of former Pistons great Joe, are in the same boat. Anthony Crater, a transfer from Ohio State, will be eligible at the semester break and will provide the team with another playmaker.
Most of the scoring from this team will come from the backcourt. Actually, most of the scoring will come from Dominique Jones. As a sophomore, the 6-4 Lake Wales, Florida native easily led the team with 18.1 points per game. Once again, it will be Jones who takes all the big shots for the Bulls. Jones even added 3.9 assists per contest, but it is Chris Howard who is the true playmaker on this team. Howard has emerged as a great leader and should be even better during his senior campaign. He is not much of a shooter, but Howard will get to the basket and can score when he needs to do so. However, the most important thing he does is create opportunities for the rest of his team and keep the ball under control.
Even with the absence of B.J. Ajayi and Aris Williams, the Bulls still have a lot of options in the paint. Augustus Gilchrist is the star of the unit after averaging 10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game. The emergence of former roleplayers like Eladio Espinosa and Alex Rivas will be the difference between an average frontcourt and a good frontcourt. Espinosa started a dozen games last year, but is not much of a scorer at all. Rivas, a 6-10 center, is a better scorer and rebounder and should find a starting job. If Rivas starts at the five spot, that would move Gilchrist, who is also 6-10, to the four spot.
Who to Watch:
In that scenario Espinosa would be the most experienced player to fill in at the three spot. But at 6-7 and 220 pounds, he lacks the foot speed to defend most wings and that could cause a big problem. Besides 6-1 guard Justin Leemow, there are not any experienced options to plug into the starting lineup and Espinosa might be forced to spend a lot of time on the wing defending players who are much quicker than him.
South Florida is slowly improving…very slowly. This group has potential to win more than four conference games if the newcomers can fill some holes off the bench. USF has had some major issues with their bench, as was seen last year when the team lost Jesus Verdejo, Mike Mercer and Ajayi for various amounts of time. The newcomers have to provide that depth or the brutal Big East will wear this team down by the middle of January.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Chris Howard, Senior, Guard, 7.7 points per game
Dominique Jones, Junior, Guard, 18.1 points per game
Eladio Espinosa, Sophomore, Forward, 1.8 points per game
Augustus Gilchrist, Sophomore, Forward, 10.2 points per game
Alex Rivas, Senior, Center, 4.2 points per game