Entering the season, USF fans knew there was going to be a change in how the team played. How could there not be? Last year, USF fielded one of the bigger lineups in the Big East and utilized a style of play that was conducive to their personnel. They played a ball control offense, often milking the shot clock down to ten seconds or less before running a set play. If they missed, they were quick on transition defense, the Bulls led the Big East in scoring defense and ranked 7th in the nation.
With the graduation of team leaders PF Ron Anderson and PF/C Gus Gilchrist, the Bulls would surely have to alter their style of play to compensate for their newfound lack of size, right? Well, they certainly tried during the home opener and the results were not pretty. The Bulls reopened the renovated Sun Dome against rival and future Big East conference member, UCF. The Bulls suffered an embarrassing 74-56 loss.
The loss was not embarrassing because of the opponent as UCF is a quality team that won 22 games a year ago, but it was the way the Bulls lost. The Bulls looked nothing like the team a year ago that grinded out teams on offense and defense. They looked nothing like the team that dictated the pace of the game and compared to a ‘root canal' by Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino.
Here are some observations from the home opener:
It is clear the Bulls are struggling with team chemistry
From the get go, you could see that the offense was out of sync. The new pace of the offense is going to take some time for the entire team to adjust. The Bulls struggles resulted from miscommunications on offense, poor passing, ball-handling miscues, and an overall lack of hustle. There was no point during the game where the Bulls had sustained cohesion on offense.
The Bulls miss Ron Anderson and Gus Gilchrist
This is easily the most obvious observation when watching the Bulls play. The Bulls struggled in rebounding during their exhibition game against Eckerd College, and their struggles continued in a big way against the Knights. The Bulls were outrebounded 45-26 and 16-9 on the offensive end. Rebounding struggles aside, the Bulls were dominated inside on the defensive end. They looked nothing like the team a year ago that stifled opponents inside and out and led the Big East in scoring defense.
The starting lineup is not set in stone
The Bulls starting lineup was a bit of a surprise as true freshman forward Zach LeDay earned the start, which was a bit unexpected as Coach Stan Heath has stated throughout the offseason that G Shaun Noriega had improved enough to be a starter. The point is moot as neither player was particularly effective on offense or defense. However, the Bulls are missing an expected contributor in Musa Abdul-Aleem. He is the most physically imposing guard on the team and was one of Coach Heath's most prized recruits. Another true freshman made his debut in Javonte Hawkins, like LeDay he was mostly ineffective however as the team starts to jell, we will get a better idea of how the newcomers will perform as the rest of the out of conference schedule is quite easy. Similar to last year, the Bulls experimented with different lineups before settling on their most effective, which culminated into an NCAA tourney appearance.
It is highly unlikely that sophomore star PG Anthony Collins and F Victor Rudd are going to play that poorly on a consistent basis. Collins had a breakout year a season ago and Rudd stepped up big time during the Bulls' stretch run. Both players are expected to be big contributors this season. Collins has battled an injury during the offseason and may not have been 100% coming into this game, he missed shots he normally makes and had some critical turnovers which stymied any runs the Bulls tried to mount. Makeable shots did not fall for either player, but as they start to get into a rhythm with their new teammates, success should follow.
The season is not even close to being over
Bulls' fans have had to deal with back-to-back poor seasons from the football team and Basketball was the lone major sport to be excited about. The blowout loss to the Knights certainly put a damper on the fans' psyche, however there is a lot of basketball to be played and if Coach Heath can make the necessary adjustments along with Musa Abdul-Aleem returning from injury, this team can find success. As of today, the Bulls are not a postseason team, returning to the NCAA tournament will be a tall order. However, this team can certainly be an NIT team and if they adjust their game to their personnel. There is an outside chance this team can contend in the top half of the Big East, which pretty much secures a spot in the NCAA tournament.