Big East Summer Capsules: South Florida BullsPosted by mlemaire on August 16th, 2012
While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is South Florida.
1. Who is ready for the next wave of junior college players?
Bulls’ coach Stan Heath loves junior college players. It’s not a secret. The former Arkansas boss has the South Florida program headed in the right direction primarily because of his willingness to recruit junior college players. Three members of last season’s NCAA Tournament team came from the juco ranks, including leading scorer Jawanza Poland. So it should come as no surprise that two of his four incoming recruits are from the junior college ranks, including center Waverly Austin, who was generally regarded as the top juco big man in the class. The other junior college recruit is Musa Abdul-Aleem, a physical wing and one-time Florida State commit who should at least see some playing time and will add depth. The Bulls lost their two best interior players from last season when Gus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson graduated, so you can bet that Austin will get every possible chance to establish himself as the team’s starting center and his contributions will go a long way to determining whether the Bulls will make it back to the NCAA Tournament. Heath has found plenty of diamonds in the rough while mining the junior college ranks, and if Abdul-Aleem and Austin can be the next in line than Heath may have found a consistent winning formula for a long-dormant program.
2. Victor Rudd Jr. may be the team’s best player, but this is Anthony Collins’ team.
One of the main reasons that South Florida was able to even make the NCAA Tournament last season was because of the play of their mercurial freshman point guard, Anthony Collins. The Texas native missed the first two games of the season but quickly established himself as the team’s top ball-handler and playmaker after that. In the last 10 games, Collins played some of his best basketball, averaging 13.9 points and 5.2 assists per game, including a 22 point, six-assist effort in a win over Pittsburgh. Of course, he turned the ball over at prodigious rates, but that was at least partially because he was a freshman who was basically asked to create offense for the rest of his team, so those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Now he has had a season to adjust to Big East play and learn the nuances of the point guard position, so you can expect Collins to make a leap toward stardom this season. He isn’t the best shooter and won’t ever be a high-volume scorer, but he is extremely dangerous when he attacks the rim and he could emerge as one of the best distributors in the conference as soon as next season. Victor Rudd, Jr. is a versatile forward who may lead the team in scoring and rebounding next season, but there should be little doubt that Collins’ development will be instrumental in the Bulls’ success.
3. The Bulls should prepare for life where they won’t be sneaking up on anybody.
We can only hope that Heath has spent the summer making sure the team stays focused on making it back to the NCAA Tournament, because they won’t be surprising anyone next season. Last season the Bulls were a feel-good story in the Big East, surviving a rigorous conference schedule and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. But with that success comes instant expectations and no more underdog role. The Bulls return plenty of talent — starting with Poland, Rudd, Jr., and Collins — certainly enough talent to make another run at an NCAA Tournament berth. But whereas most teams have always viewed South Florida as something of a conference whipping boy, that perception is rapidly changing primarily because of their success last season. Changing the perception is great when it comes to proving to recruits you are a winning program and establishing respect in one of the nation’s best conferences, but not so great when you want to keep sneaking up on teams and catching them complacent. Heath is smart enough to realize that his work in Tampa Bay is hardly over, and in fact it might just be at the beginning. South Florida isn’t the type of program that can afford to go through the occasional rebuilding phase — it needs to keep the pedal pressed on the gas if it wants to really turn the program into a consistent winner.