Tournament Should Challenge USF's Depth

The Charleston Classic, which opens tonight, should provide the first real test of USF's depth. Through the opening two games, the Bulls only went seven deep, but the bench might be asked to play a key role as USF plays three games in four days in South Carolina.

Charleston Classic:
Date: November 19, 2009
Location: Charleston, S.C.
Game 1 vs Davidson
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV : None
Radio: 1250 WHNZ AM
Webcast: BullsVision on
Stadium: Carolina First Arena

When the Bulls open play tonight against Davidson at the Charleston Classic, it may be business as usual for the seven-man rotation head coach Stan Heath has leaned on through the first two games. But before the weekend is up, USF hopes to have more answers about where its depth is likely to come from this season.

So far, four of the Bulls' five regular starters are averaging 30 minutes or more per game – with only reserve guard Justin Leemow and freshman forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick seeing meaningful time off the bench. Transfer point guard Anthony Crater figures to break into that mix in about a month, but until then, where will USF turn for depth?

Three games in four days in South Carolina could help provide that answer.

"We still need to add some more things. We have some guys on our bench who can help us and we need to get them ready to maybe give us a little more depth for the future," Heath admitted.

Freshman guards Jordan Dumars, Shaun Noriega and Mike Burwell combined for just 12 minutes played and didn't score a field goal (0-for-4) or register a rebound in the season-opening wins against SMU and Virginia. They figure to have more opportunities this weekend.

USF opens tonight against Davidson, then faces either LaSalle or South Carolina in Friday's second round. With two wins, the Bulls could reach the tournament finals on Sunday.

"The freshmen are going to get a chance to play. They bring a lot to the team. I think they're going to play a lot in Charleston," junior forward Jarrid Famous said following Monday's convincing victory over UVa. "We have two wins under our belts and now we want to go up there, get three more and win that tournament. That's our mantra. We want to go up there, play strong and win these games – bring it home to USF."

In order to do that, the Bulls will first have to beat Davidson, a program that has won 85 games over the past three seasons, reached two NCAA Tournaments and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight two years ago. This Davidson team, however, is coping with life after All-American guard Stephen Curry, and returns no starters who averaged in double figures last season.

Still, the Wildcats are formidable. They opened their season with a close road loss (73-62) at No. 10 Butler last Saturday. USF and Davidson have met once before, with the Bulls winning 96-70 at the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska during the 2000-01 campaign.

A victory tonight would likely mean a Friday matchup with South Carolina, which returns four starters from a 21-10 team a year ago and received 42 votes in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.

"We don't have cupcakes, that's for sure. It's certainly going to get us ready. We start out with Davidson. I know people will say they don't have (Steph) Curry, but they used to win before Curry and they're going to be awfully good," Heath said. "South Carolina's in there and Miami, Penn State, so we'll find out a lot more about our team. But I think we're playing with good confidence and we're excited about playing in this tournament. It's a good field. But it comes down to us being a team and not being individuals."

While the Bulls will be hoping for signs of a breakout from one or more of their freshmen, they have the luxury of a veteran lineup that includes seniors Chris Howard and Mike Mercer, and juniors Dominique Jones and Famous.

That game experience lessens the pressure on the youngsters to provide immediate dividends.

"I think we have a lot of maturity this year," sophomore forward Gus Gilchrist said. "Jarrid's new, but he's a JUCO guy, so we have a lot of experience and guys have learned what to do in certain situations during the game. And our freshmen are going to step up, so I'm not worried about it."

"Coach just emphasizes to us that we have to go out there and play hard - don't take any plays off. We know we need to start strong and finish strong," Famous added. "At the end of the season, we want to be one of the teams that are still playing."

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