I’m thinking of a team. This team played in a Big Six conference, yet went a mere 10-8 in nonconference play last season. This team lost to the likes of Penn St. and Auburn. This team was 328th in the nation in scoring. This team played in arguably the most difficult conference in the country. This team did not feature a player who averaged double digit points.
So what if I told you that this team finished 12-6 in conference play and was on the cusp of a Sweet Sixteen berth? Would you think I’m crazy?
Now what if I told you they could do it again?
The truth is, the South Florida Bulls have a chance to pull off another remarkable season. And it’s all thanks to their defense.
Head coach Stan Heath has instilled a defensive mentality in his players. While they may struggle to score, they make it extremely difficult on their opponents. Last year, they came in at 13th in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defense rankings. One of the biggest keys to that was freshman point guard Anthony Collins.
Ignore his ugly jump shot, Collins showed the ability to shut down the quickest man on the floor, something that he only got better at as the season went on. During the Big East tournament and NCAA tournament, Collins stepped up on both sides of the floor, including a five steal performance in an overtime loss to Notre Dame. He averaged 1.6 steals per game on the season.
And Collins isn’t the only gem on this squad. Victor Rudd Jr. is primed for a breakout season. The now junior has found his niche in both scoring and rebounding, and on top of that, can shoot the three ball decently. Not bad for a guy who’s 6′ 7″.
Like I mentioned before, the Bulls have a lack of scoring. However, while no one averaged 10 points per game, four returning players averaged at least 8 (Collins, Rudd Jr., Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, and Jawanza Poland) while Ron Anderson Jr. was a hair under seven ppg.
USF will miss Augustus Gilchrist, a senior big man who was a big time leader. He led the team in scoring and blocks. However, the Bulls have the ability to make up for his loss. The majority of their key players are coming back.
If South Florida can continue its defensive intensity, a couple of these guys are bound to make the leap and start filling the scoring load. Will it be enough to contend for the Big East title? That remains to be seen. But if these five guys can play as a unit the way they did last year, other Big East teams will dread the date they must face the Bulls.