Jan. 10, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; South Florida Bulls guard Anthony Collins (11) dribbles the ball as Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Jerian Grant (22) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

South Florida Bulls Basketball Season Preview

The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

South Florida Bulls

Last Season 22-14 (12-6 Big East)
Lost to Notre Dame in Big East tournament quarterfinals
Lost to Ohio in third round of NCAA tournament
Key Returning Players: Anthony Collins, G
Victor Rudd, F
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick F
Jawanza Poland, G
Shaun Noriega, G
Key Additions: Javontae Hawkins, F (Huntington Prep)
Jordan Omogbehin, C (Redshirt freshman)
Musa Abdul-Aleem, G (Georgia Perimeter College)
*Shemiye McLendon, G (Hofstra transfer, Walk-on)
Kore White, F (Florida Atlantic graduate transfer)
Zach LeDay, F (The Colony HS)
*Not yet eligible
Key Losses: Augustus Gilchrist, F
Ron Anderson Jr., F
Hugh Robertson, G
Blake Nash, G (Transferred to Texas Tech)
LaVonte Dority, F (Transferred to Valparaiso)
Top Non-Conference Games: Nov. 10 vs. UCF
Nov. 30 vs. Georgia
Dec. 5 @ Oklahoma State
Dec. 29 vs. George Mason
Jan. 2 @ UCF
Top Conference Games: Jan. 6 vs. Syracuse
Jan. 12 @ Louisville
Jan. 19 vs. Georgetown
Jan. 26 vs. Notre Dame
Jan. 28 @ Marquette
Feb. 6 vs. Marquette
Feb. 17 vs. Louisville
Feb. 27 @ Pittsburgh
Mar. 9 @ Cincinnati
Breakout Player: Anthony Collins. He actually broke out last year as one of college basketball’s unsung great freshmen. Few just noticed.  Expect Collins to break out again as a sophomore, this time with the college basketball world paying attention. The crafty, precocious freshman developed into one of the top Big East point guards after starting the season on the shelf recovering from an injury. Collins is the total package. He’s a very efficient scorer, having led all Big East starting point guards in field goal percentage (51-percent) last season. He can distribute; the freshman ranked 6thin the Big East in assists per game. And, most importantly, Collins can defend; he ranked in the top ten in the Big East in steals, and opposing point guards shot less than 35-percent from the floor against him last season. Mostly ignored as a middling prospect out of Texas, Collins is rewarding Stan Heath for doing what no other high-major coach was willing to do as well: commit to Collins as the program’s point guard of the future. His investment is already paying dividends. Short of Louisville’s Peyton Siva and Providence’s Vincent Council, Anthony Collins may be the most complete point guard in the league despite having just one year of collegiate experience. Awfully impressive for a guy nobody wanted coming out of high school.Honorable Mention: Victor Rudd. The 21-year-old junior forward has reportedly sprouted two inches over the offseason, blossoming from 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-9. Rudd has an NBA game and now an NBA-ready body to go with it. He can score inside and out, rebounds well and is an exceptional defender. A former Arizona State transfer, Rudd must become a more efficient scorer next season. A guy with his size and athleticism cannot shoot 37.5-percent from the floor and constantly live on the perimeter. With improved consistency from long range and a serious commitment to attacking more, Rudd can be one of the Big East’s biggest breakthrough players in 2012-13.
X-Factor: Frontcourt play. Augustus Gilchrist exited college roughly the same player he was when he entered: a one-dimensional defensive stalwart. Gilchrist never rounded out into a complete player, and his offensive game actually regressed during his four years in Tampa Bay (he was a good finisher, but had zero post moves and could not create his own offense). Still, Gilchrist’s value as a defensive presence cannot be overstated. The well-built forward was the anchor of USF’s staunch defenses under Stan Heath. When he wasn’t blocking shots, he was altering them. Without Gilchrist, the fate of USF’s frontcourt [and potentially season] could fall on the broad shoulders of 7-foot-3 Nigerian center Jordan Omogbehin. The redshirt freshman underwent surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee last October but will be ready to go for the start of the season. Omogbehin is a project, but with a 7-foot-3 frame, he certainly has more margin for error than most freshmen bigs. Even if he’s not ready—completely deaf to the game of basketball—Omogbehin should still, at worst, be able to alter shots and rebound at a relatively high level. In addition to Omogbehin, USF was banking on immediate frontcourt insurance by way of Waverly Austin, one of the top junior college transfers in the country. The school, however, ruled the talented JuCo transfer academically ineligible because it would not accept all of his credits from Palm Beach State. Although the NCAA clearinghouse gave Austin the OK, the university nixed him on its accord. Ron Anderson Jr. is also out of the picture for the Bulls this season after exhausting his eligibility last year. The do-everything forward leaves another sizable void in the South Florida frontcourt. In Anderson, the Bulls must replace an efficient scorer who notched timely buckets, the team’s second-leading rebounder from last season and most versatile defender on the roster. Rudd and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick will have to shoulder a much greater load in 2012-13 for USF to offset the loss of one of its glue guys from last year’s team.
Best Case: Anthony Collins builds off last year’s sensational rookie campaign and emerges as one of the premiere point guards in the league. Collins proves he’s here to stay, not a flash in the pan who caught the Big East off-guard as an overlooked incoming freshman. With Victor Rudd’s expanding frame comes a newly expanded game. The junior forward is much improved on the offensive end, becoming a more efficient scorer, decision maker and prolific outside shooter. Always steady on defense, Rudd emerges as a reliable weapon on offense as well. Omogbehin is an immediate contributor, and his formidable presence alone fortifies USF’s frontcourt. The 7-footer is still raw offensively, but he’s no worse than what Gilchrist was last season on that end of the floor. Omogbehin chips in a few put-back buckets per game, but is a much more efficient scorer than his predecessor, who shot below 40-percent from the floor last season (that’s brutal for a big man). Thin on paper, USF’s depth is better than expected. Hunting Prep star Javontae Hawkins, the most heralded freshman in USF’s incoming class, is a productive freshman player who offers a much needed offensive spark off the bench. Shaun Noriega is a veteran presence off the bench, providing an outside shooting threat in back of Jawanza Poland. South Florida rides its stellar point guard, veteran experience and stifling D to a top-five finish in conference. The Bulls don’t have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday as they did last time, enjoying a single digit seed (No. 8 or 9) in the Big Dance and a favorable pod.
Worst Case: Last season was more anomaly trend. Despite the 12-6 conference record, South Florida sported a per game point differential of just +2.7 points (by contrast, Pitt, which finished 5-13 in conference, had +3.5 points margin). South Florida’s defense is good as usual, but not elite like last year when the Bulls ranked 13th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency.  The absence of Gilchrist inside stings, and Omogbehin, while tall, proves you can’t stick a 7-foot scarecrow in the paint and call it interior defense. The redshirt freshman endures many of the growing pains that plague even the most talented newcomers. Mired by foul trouble and a tenuous understanding of the nuances of his position (e.g., defensive rotations, floor spacing, positioning on post entries, outlet passes, boxing out, etc.), Omogbehin spends most of the reason riding the pine as South Florida reverts to a smaller lineup. Rudd is taller, but not any better. He’s still an inefficient scorer who spends way too much time camped out on the perimeter. The absences of glue guys Anderson Jr. and Hugh Robertson are heartfelt on both ends of the floor. USF is again an eyesore on offense, only this time, the Bulls don’t have the elite defense to win so many low-scoring games. South Florida scored fewer than 60 points in 12 of the team’s 18 conference games last season, yet still managed to win half of those 12 games. That luck in low-scoring games turns in 2012-13, as this year’s team manages to win just three or four games in which the team scored fewer than 60 points. As Collins endures a sophomore slump, the Bulls follow suit. USF finishes .500 in conference (given how bad the bottom half of the Big East is this year, the Bulls will not do any worse than this) and finds itself on the bubble once again on Selection Sunday.
Projected Finish: Regular Season: 20-10 (11-7 Big East), 6th place Big East
Lose in Big East tournament quarterfinals
NCAA tournament No. 9 seed

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