A sensational freshman season has Anthony Collins at forefront of Big East point guards going into his sophomore campaign at USF. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
The returning Steve Lavin was the subject of yesterday's Big East preview, which profiled St. John's and their prospects this season. Today, a team that beat the Red Storm on the way to an unexpected success story similar to the one St. John's enjoyed two years ago takes center stage.
The University of South Florida spent its 36-game slate last season as a statistical anomaly. Not only did the Bulls win 22 of those contests and advance to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32, but USF did it without having any of its players average ten or more points per game. Augustus Gilchrist, who has since graduated, led the team at 9.5 points per contest, which prompted head coach Stan Heath to comment on a desire to be as equally adept on the offensive end as the Bulls were defensively, yielding just 57 points on average to their opponents. "We want to play faster, we want to score more points," Heath said at last week's Big East media day. "This team has the defensive mindset of the teams at Michigan State that I was an assistant on."
Heath, who is as underrated a coach as he is a true nice guy in the industry, will be relying on sophomore point guard Anthony Collins to guide his team through the rigors of yet another Big East campaign. "He had a terrific freshman season," said Heath of Collins, whose average of over five assists per game placed him among the top point guards in the conference despite his rookie status. "Early on, I didn't expect to get so much out of him. I think he's an extremely smart player, he knows how to counter what teams are going to do against him."
In addition to Collins, Heath will look to incumbent guards Jawanza Poland and Shaun Noriega; as well as junior college transfers Musa Abdul-Aleem and Martino Brock, to support his gifted young floor general. Up front, the Bulls have a monumental task in replacing Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr., and senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick will be the key inside for USF. After playing primarily on the wing and shooting 41 percent from three-point range last season, Fitzpatrick will be the de facto center in certain situations this year due to USF being more undersized than they were last season. Florida Atlantic transfer Kore White will go a long way toward picking up the slack inside, while freshman Zach LeDay and junior Victor Rudd give Heath a pair of formidable swingmen that can play either forward position. Rudd, who created many matchup problems during the Bulls' road to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, will likely do the same again this season. "His versatility is to the point where he's as good as you can find at either position," said Heath. "Look for him to do both."
After playing in several different venues last season, USF finally has its on-campus home again after the Sun Dome was renovated last year. The Bulls will open their 2012-13 campaign there with their first five games, starting against future Big East foe Central Florida on November 10th and continuing on with Maryland-Eastern Shore, Loyola-Chicago, Eastern Michigan and Bradley before traveling to Stetson on November 26th. USF is back on campus four days later for its SEC/Big East Challenge matchup with Georgia, but travels to Oklahoma State on December 5th before a thirteen-day hiatus in between brings USF to the start of a three-game homestand against Youngstown State, with Bowling Green and George Mason following before a return match in Orlando with Central Florida to open 2013 on January 2nd.
The Bulls' first two Big East games are home affairs, first against Syracuse on January 6th before welcoming Villanova into the Sun Dome three days later. From there, USF travels to Louisville (January 12th) and Rutgers (January 17th) before a home date with Georgetown on the 19th that precedes a trip to Seton Hall four days later. A January 26th host matchup against Notre Dame will be the precursor to a two-game road trip to Marquette (January 28th) and UConn. (February 3rd) USF returns the favor by hosting Marquette on February 6th before hitting the road three days later to complete a home-and-home series with Villanova.
Home meetings with Providence (February 13th) and Louisville (February 17th) take USF into their next road matchup, which comes at Carnesecca Arena against St. John's on February 20th. After a week off, the Bulls invade the Petersen Center for the final time in Big East play, taking on Pitt on February 27th in what will be the Panthers' final season in the conference before joining the ACC. USF gets two more home games against DePaul (March 3rd) and UConn (March 6th) before closing the season on the road against Mick Cronin and Cincinnati March 9th.