Season In Review: South Florida BullsPosted by mlemaire on April 26th, 2013
It can be difficult to wipe away all of the good will earned from a program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years, but coach Stan Heath and his South Florida Bulls did their very best to try this season. Coming off a season in which they won two NCAA Tournament games and went 22-14 including a 12-6 mark in the Big East, Heath’s Bulls were picked to finish eighth in a preseason poll by the conference coaches. Instead they stumbled out of the gate in non-conference action and ended up losing 10 straight conference games at one point to finish a disappointing 12-19 including an abysmal 3-15 mark in conference play. Let’s dive right in to exactly how the Bulls managed to regress so badly:
In a season when you only win three conference games, there just isn’t that much that can be written about the good parts of South Florida’s season. But since the space needs to be filled, it is worth mentioning that junior Victor Rudd continued to improve into a solid two-way player and senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick capped off four years of service to the Bulls with a solid if unspectacular senior season. The valuable experience and flashes of potential from freshmen Zach LeDay and Javontae Hawkins should give Bulls’ fans at least a small modicum of hope that the near future will be better and there was that victory early in the conference slate over eventual regular season champion Georgetown even if it did come when the Hoyas were playing their worst basketball of the season. There were brief instances where the defense that got South Florida into the NCAA Tournament returned, as the Bulls defended the three-point line very well and showed flashes of excellent team defense. But eventually their lack of depth and scoring ability really hindered their ability to win the low-scoring slugfests they were able to win the year before.
There were two primary reasons last year that South Florida made the NCAA Tournament in relatively surprising fashion. The first was that the Bulls were one of the best defensive teams in the country and were physical and athletic enough to keep pace in the rugged Big East. And the second was because freshman point guard Anthony Collins came out of nowhere to become one of the most dynamic point guards in the conference, if not the entire country. Unfortunately, the primary reasons the Bulls were so bad this season were because that defense never materialized and Collins failed to make major strides on the offensive end. The team slipped from 13th to 105th in adjusted defensive efficiency and while Collins improved his passing numbers and cut down on turnovers, the Bulls really needed him to be their primary scorer, and he just didn’t shoot well enough to make that happen. The result was an offense that was lucky to top 60 points in a game and was constantly reliant on Collins’ ability to create offense to do most of its damage. The Bulls learned quickly that if you want to win playing at such a low tempo, you better be able to create offense out of your half-court sets, and South Florida couldn’t do that. They were also near the bottom in bench minutes, meaning that Heath never built up enough depth to feel safe in an eight-man rotation, which is why Collins and Fitzpatrick and Rudd played the entire game almost every night.
It’s hard to imagine that South Florida will be as bad next year as they were this year. For starters, the school is staying in the newly named American Athletic Conference, which is bringing in some intriguing basketball names like Memphis and Temple, but still won’t come close to matching the talent or depth of the Big East from this season. So at the very least, the Bulls should be playing a much easier schedule. They do lose a quartet of contributing seniors to graduation including Fitzpatrick and guard Jawanza Poland but Rudd, Collins, and Martino Brock will all be back and that trio will form the core of next year’s team. Rudd should be a steady combo forward, Brock is a capable scorer who should improve with a season of Big East experience under his belt and Collins is too talented and fearless to regress again. Assuming Collins can improve offensively and find a way to balance his exceptional passing and play-making abilities with the team’s need for him to score, he will be one of the best point guards in the conference. The Bulls will also bring in a large recruiting class that should provide one or two immediate contributors. The biggest name is burly center John Egbunu, who should give Heath the true post player he has been looking for since Gus Gilchrist graduated. Egbunu is raw offensively and isn’t built as a premier rim protector, but he is a physical force of nature with exceptionally strong hands and plenty enough physicality to finish around the rim in college.