A year ago South Florida arrived as a Big East program, reaching .500 within an extremely difficult conference and recording 20 victories for the season. That, of course, was with the talented Dominique Jones, the first Bull to earn All-Big East first team honors.
This year they are going it on their own, and Coach Stan Heath's team is trying to develop a new identity.
If a year ago the Bulls were oriented toward Jones' guard play. This year they are counting on 6-10 junior Augustus Gilchrist, 6-11 senior center Jarrid Famous and 6-8 junior Ron Anderson, Jr., a transfer from Kansas State, to rule the boards.
The problem has been that points have been hard to come by. Gilchrest and guard Jawanza Poland, another junior college transfer, are the only players averaging in double figures, and the team scoring just 62.6 points a game.
It's possible they may find some more points out of Anderson, who averages 9.8 per game, but is shooting a solid 62 percent from the floor on 31 of 50 shots.
It has become apparent that they are going to have to play a typical Big East type of game, relying on defense and rebounding to eke out hard-fought wins.
--Coach Stan Heath has been mixing and matching as he tries to find the right combination to head into Big East play. He has used as many as six different starting lineups this season.
--USF is using its size to its advantage on the boards, allowing only one team in the early going to out-rebound it. In the rugged Big East, hitting the boards is a necessity, and the Bulls are aptly nicknamed there.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ron Anderson Jr. sat out last year after transferring from Kansas State and could only watch as the Bulls became a factor in the Big East. This year he is trying to push them even farther, showing that he can hit the boards and score.
Anderson is the leading rebounder through the early going with 7.7 per game, a feat considering he is playing only 24 minutes a game. At the same time he has been quietly efficient on offense, hitting 31 of 50 shots for 62 percent.
Teams have been concentrating more on Augustus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous but may have to pay more attention to Anderson once the Big East season begins.
KEY CONFERENCE GAME: Dec. 28 at Seton Hall -- Perhaps the best way for South Florida to gage where it stands in the Big East comes early when it travels to New Jersey to face Seton Hall. A year ago the two teams had identical records at 9-9, going 6-3 at home and 3-6 on the road. Each had a star player, USF with Dominique Jones, Seton Hall with Jeremy Hazell. Jones averaged 21.4, Hazell 20.4. But Hazell is back this season, although injured at present. If South Florida can handle Seton Hall on its home court, it could go a long way toward telling the team and the league that the Bull have taken another step forward.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No turning back. We came off a rocky start. ... Now we've just got to keep on going, and keep the train moving." -- C Jarrid Famous, to the St. Petersburg Times, as the South Florida Bulls try to right themselves heading into conference play.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2009-10 CONFERENCE RECORD: 9-9, ninth place (tie)
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: South Florida's strength lines in an inside game that includes two players 6-10 or taller in Augustus Gilchrest and Jarrid Famous. It also has a talented transfer inside in Ron Anderson, Jr., along with a productive big man off the bench in Toarlyn Fitzpatrick. To get going, however, the Bulls need to find some punch from the guard position; Jawanza Poland is offering some much needed scoring help while Anthony Carter runs the team. The Bulls, however, need more as they rank last in scoring in the conference.
Defensively, USF will get after you inside with their big men, but without great quickness they are not forcing turnovers or stealing the ball, ranking last in turnover margin by a wide margin.
--South Florida's recruiting has gone completely national. While there are four players from Florida on the roster, nine states are represented, including California, New York and Michigan.