USF Bull's Basketball Team Report 3/13

It took three months and the full slate of conference games, but South Florida finally gave its fans something to cheer about. A 63-56 victory over Georgetown ended the Bulls' season with a Big East victory, meaning the senior class that gave its all the entire season at least knows what it was like to win a game in college basketball's best league.

Solomon Jones was the rock of the team all season, standing strong in the middle even as his body broke down late in the season. He played one of his best games ever in his Bulls finale, with a career-high 23 points and nine rebounds against the Hoyas. It was a nice end for the team, which spent its final couple of weeks answering questions about its coach. Robert McCullum isn't the most popular boss among the alumni, particularly given the team's woeful performance in Big East play.

He'll be back for another go-round next season but will probably need to show some progress to stay beyond that. While 1-15 is disappointing, an undertalented team that lost key players to injury before the season even started had to be realistic about its expectations. It competed more often than not but lacked the kind of athletes that most of its rivals take for granted.

For USF to improve, it will need to improve its talent base tremendously. That's especially true because the Bulls will be hit hard by graduation this season, with Solomon Jones and James Holmes leaving. Replacing the two leading scorers on a team that has a hard time putting the ball in the basket will be McCullum's big challenge this offseason.

Notes and Quotes:
--Because of the many injuries, coach Robert McCullum played his starters a tremendous amount of minutes early. That may have taken its toll when his team faltered late in numerous Big East games. Three starters averaged more than 35 minutes, with James Holmes leading the way at 38.6.

--Two of the most promising South Florida freshmen had to redshirt in 2005-06 because of injuries. Zaronn Cann suffered a knee injury in his first start against Florida Atlantic on Dec. 15, early enough to earn a medical redshirt. Chris Howard was lost in the preseason, and will challenge for the starting point guard position in 2006-07.

THE RECORDS: 7-22, 1-15 (last in Big East), failed to qualify for Big East tournament

HOW THE SEASON ENDED: South Florida played its starters big minutes all season, as a lack of depth didn't give coach Rob McCullum a whole lot of options. Until the finale against Georgetown, that resulted in a Bulls squad that tended to wear down late in games. Still, the win over Georgetown is a sweet end to a season gone horribly wrong.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "People were projecting we wouldn't win a game. We got together and decided we weren't going to go out like that. We wish we could have won more games. But getting this one means a lot, just to prove to people we can play with these guys. We can win." -- South Florida center Solomon Jones, to the Associated Press

THE GOOD NEWS: It's hard to find much good news out of a 1-15 Big East season, but at least the Bulls showed they could compete with top teams. USF was in almost every game until the final minutes, but lacked the depth and talent to win at the wire. If the injured players heal and the newcomers get adjusted quickly, South Florida can dream of at least qualifying for the Big East tournament next season.

THE BAD NEWS: Injuries to key underclassmen kept most of the returnees from getting badly-needed Big East experience. Robert McCullum will be back next season, but doesn't have much rope beyond that, making it difficult to recruit.

KEY RETURNEES: Melvin Buckley, Melvyn Richardson and McHugh Mattis will be seniors, and give the team an experienced frontcourt. The team will be counting on Chris Howard and Zaronn Cann, two freshmen who were injured this season, to anchor the backcourt alongside returnees Colin Dennis and Chris Capko.

ROSTER REPORT: Junior forward McHugh Mattis' 10-footer against Rutgers on Feb. 26 wasn't just any basket. It was Mattis' first hoop of the year that wasn't a layup or a dunk. Obviously the team hopes he'll expand his range a bit heading into next season.

--Senior center Solomon Jones averaged just shot of a double-double for the season, but his 9.82 rebounds per game is the eighth-best in team history.

--Sophomore guard Collin Dennis missed the first half of the season, but averaged nearly 20 minutes a game once he returned. McCullum would like to see Dennis become more of a scoring threat next year; he averaged just 4.4 points per game in 2005-06, and struggled with his shot nearly the entire campaign.

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