Fresh off a 20-13 season that got the Bulls to the postseason for the first time since joining the Big East, South Florida returns one of the best frontcourts in the conference. With Gus Gilchrist, Jarrid Famous and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick joined by Kansas State transfer Ron Anderson, the Bulls will be able to bang around with anyone on the schedule.
The backcourt, however, is another story. And if Stan Heath's squad is going to match or improve upon last season's trip to the NIT, the guards will have to adjust to more prominent roles in the case of the veterans, or be able to compete with the best of the Big East from their first days of practice for the newcomers.
Gone from that 2009-10 squad is Dominique Jones, an All-Big East First Team selection who won the conference scoring title. Also gone is steady guard Chris Howard, who seemed to be with the program forever and will be missed for his leadership as much as his contributions on the stat sheet. With Mike Mercer also departing, Heath has to replace the three key members of his backcourt rotation.
The most obvious candidate to step into the breach is Antony Crater. The Ohio State transfer became eligible in January a year ago, and averaged 3.1 points and 1.7 assists per game in just under 24 minutes. He began practice as a starter, but those numbers will have to increase in 2010-11, particularly the assist total.
Also returning from last season are shooters Mike Burwell and Shawn Noriega, but the big impact should be from the newer faces. Heath went the junior college route to get a more instant impact, and the early weeks of practice should determine who gets the first crack at joining the rotation.
Hugh Robertson and Jawanza Poland were both highly-ranked wing guards at the juco level, and Shedrick Haynes was an all-region pick. Incoming freshman LaVonte Dority was one of the top high school players in talent-rich Chicago, and could also contend for minutes.
Some of those players are going to have to show they can distribute the ball and score from outside at the major college level. If that happens, South Florida should be a tough team again in 2010-11. If not, the talented frontcourt players may be spending a lot of time standing forlornly in the paint waiting for passes that never quite get there.
--One thing Stan Heath will be doing before the season starts is figuring out who his shooters are. South Florida shot 28.3 percent from three-point range a year ago, worst in the Big East, and if that doesn't improve opponents will pack their defense inside and prevent the Bulls big men from getting any looks at the basket.
--South Florida got a summer workout when it represented the United States in the Pan American University Championships in Brazil this August. The Bulls won their first four games before falling to the host nation in the final and coming away with the silver medal.
--Stan Heath was rewarded for his 20-win season with a contract extension. The school gave him a five-year, $4.5 million deal, ripping up a contract that had been set to expire in two years.
LAST YEAR: 20-13 overall, 9-9 in the Big East
HEAD COACH: Stan Heath, fourth year as head coach (41-54 at South Florida; 153-121 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to get to wear USA jerseys. I mean, how many basketball players get to do that in their lifetime. This will probably be the first and last time that I'll have USA across my chest." -- F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick in the Tampa Tribune, on the experience of playing for the United States in the Pan Am University Games this August.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Anthony Crater, SG Mike Burwell, F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, PF Jarrid Famous, PF Augustus Gilchrist
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: That would be a big lineup if Heath elects to maximize his size. Kansas State transfer Ron Anderson Jr. is another option at the forward slot. If Heath goes smaller, he could add another shooter in Shawn Noriega, or juco transfers Hugh Robertson, Shedrick Haynes or Jawanza Poland. Heath will be spending the first few weeks of the season looking at his options, particularly on the wing.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS:
The Bulls went the junior college route for most of their recruits, and the competition for playing time should be fierce. Hugh Robertson, Shedrick Haynes and Jawanza Poland are all guards, and will fight for time alongside likely point guard Anthony Crater. LaVonte Dority will try to muscle past them, and will likely get minutes backing up Crater at the point. Kansas State transfer Ron Anderson Jr. is eligible after sitting out the 2009-10 season, and should immediately join the rotation.
--Stan Heath got a big verbal for the class of 2011-12 ... literally. The commitment came from Andre Jackson, a 6-10 275-pound center who will play for Lee Junior College in Texas this season.
--One familiar face to the coaching staff was added to the roster over the summer. Jordan Heath, the oldest son of the head coach, will be a walk-on in 2010-11.
--The Bulls got a transfer when Victor Rudd elected to move East and leave Arizona State. The 6-7 small forward will sit out the 2010-11 season per NCAA rules, but have three years of eligibility remaining after that.