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October 2, 2013

USF women's basketball preview

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USF women's basketball returns after the Bulls put up a historic run in 2012, going 22-11 (9-7) and getting the first every NCAA tournament win in their second visit to the Dance.

USF beat Texas Tech 71 to 70 and nearly beat California (fell 78 to 82) in an attempt to advance to the Sweet 16. The win marked the first tournament victory in program history and showed how great of a program Coach Jose Fernandez has built during his time in Tampa.

The ladies had a huge season, the last in the Big East, with upset wins over Rutgers, Syracuse, and Louisville, all on the way to the big dance.

Last year, the Bulls averaged 69 points per game and held opponents to 60 points per game. They held the rebounding margin 44.7 to 40 per game and held a 3.4 assist vs. turnover margin, leading to their 22 wins.

2013 brings a lot of changes for the Bulls. For starters, they now find themselves in the AAC conference with newcomers like Houston and SMU although Big East foes like Connecticut and Louisville still remain.

USF will also have a new group of players after several key starters from last year's team graduated. Andrea Smith (16.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and Andrell Smith. (13.7 PPG, 5 RPG), the two leading scorers from last season are now gone along with other contributors like Caitlin Rowe.

Despite the turnover of the roster, Coach Fernandez returns several key stars like Inga Orekhova and Courtney Williams, and gets players such as Shalethia Stringfield andLaura Marcos Canedo, who missed last season with injuries.

Joining the returning nucleus is a recruiting class that could be considered the most decorated in program history. Let's go down the roster, look at the returning players and newcomers and what USF can do in 2013-2014.

Paige Cashin - 6'4" - Freshman - Forward/Center - Newark, Ohio (Newark HS)

Cashin was rated in the ESPN Top 150 recruits and was among the top 20 in the center position, giving the Bulls a big time talent in the paint. In her final year, Cashin averaged 10 PPG and 8 RPG. Cashin has great work in the paint, making her a strong scorer and rebounder, something the Bulls need in the paint. I would expect her to rotate in off the bench for Akila McDonald, but if Coach Fernandez wants to go with a bigger lineup, she could be inserted into the starting rotation. I would expect around 5 PPG and 3 RPG per game for her this season with bigger days ahead.

Alisia Jenkins - 6'1" - Sophomore - Forward - Statesboro, GA (Satesboro HS)

Jenkins started in 23 games in the 32 games she played, playing well both in the paint and inside the perimeter. She averaged 6.3 PPG while shooting 52% from the floor. She also averaged 6.2 RPG, shot 62% from the free throw line and added 21 blocks and 25 steals, doing a little bit of everything on both ends of the court. Jenkins came up big last year for the Bulls, maturing throughout the year, showing skills on the offensive side and getting after people on defense. I would expect her to be a starter at forward this season and should average about the same numbers if not more on offense for Coach Fernandez. I think she is a rising star that is capable of doing even more than we saw in her freshman year.

Jayla King - 6' - Freshman - Guard/Forward - Pensacola, FL (Pine Forest HS)

King, coming from the same high school as George Selvie, King was named 3 time 1st team all state during her prep career. She averaged 17 PPG and 9 RPG last year, making her one of the top talents in the state. King is a strong post player, displaying the same skills as Jenkins, working hard in the paint and possessing a solid mid-range game that makes her a solid player at small forward. King doesn't have elite speed, but can keep up with the pace of the USF offense and should be a strong player in time. I expect her to be a bench player this year with a possible redshirt.

Micah Kroll - 5'8" - Sophomore - Guard - Tampa, FL (Tampa Catholic HS)

Kroll was a walk-on last season, appearing in 10 games and scoring a total of 9 points. She has a solid stroke from 3-point range, but will be hard pressed to make it as a regular in the starting rotation for the Bulls, even off the bench. Look for her to come in during late game situations when games are already decided.

Laura Marcos Canedo - 5'8" - Redshirt freshman - Guard - Salamnca, Spain (Colegio Champagnat)

Canedo, a big time talent out of Spain, had to redshirt last season after suffering a foot injury before the year starter. Canedo brings a lot of international experience and gives the Bulls a pure point guard that can run the offense. She is battling others for the starting job at point guard, but whether she wins out or not, Canedo should see a lot of playing time this year. Canedo is a solid facilitator that could become a similar player to Jazmine Sepulveda (In my opinion) that can run the offense but also get her own shot anywhere on the floor.

Tremaine McCullough - 5'8" - Freshman - Guard - Orlando, FL (Edgewater HS)

McCullough was a McDonald's All American nominee last season, showing her skill set. McCullough is very similar to Andrell Smith, an athletic combo guard that can create her own shot but also run the offense and stick to people on defense. McCullough is regarded as a top recruit, sought after by many teams, making her a star in the making to watch. I expect McCullough to come off the bench this season but to contribute right away and have a strong year, averaging near 5 PPG.

Akila McDonald - 6'4" - Senior - Center- Decatur, GA (Columbia HS)

McDonald started in 25 games last season (appeared in all 33) and totaling 3.9 PPG and 6 RPG. She also added 57 blocks and 27 steals as well. McDonald is a senior starter that is poised for a huge season. She has improved her footwork and should be a better weapon on offense. She has great strength and battles well in the paint for rebounds and can keep the lanes clear against teams. I expect her to have a strong senior year for the Bulls, averaging around 5 PPG and again pulling down around 7 RPG.

Shavontae Naylor - 5'9" - Sophomore - Guard - Ocala, FL (Southwest Atlantic Christian HS)

Naylor made 2 starts in 24 games last season, averaging 1.8 PPG (43 points total) while shooting 43%. She averaged 1.8 RPG, had 1 block, and 11 steals in limited action. Naylor saw limited action off the bench and will probably continue that role this season with a few spot starts mixded in. She plays at a loaded position and with the return of Shalethia Stringfield, her playing time will be affected.

Inga Orekhova - 6'2" - Senior - Guard - Sevastapol, Ukraine (Northeast Oklahoma CC) (The Bishop School)

Orekhova started 32 out of 33 games last season, averaging 12.7 PPG (419 total points) an d shot 34% from 3-point range. She also added 3.9 RPG, 85 assists, 37 blocks, and added 55 steals. Orekhova is a huge player for the Bulls, both on defense with her length, but more on offense with her sharp shooting skills. Orekhova enters 2013 with 687 career points, just 313 points away from hitting 1000 points in her career, something that would cement her legacy as one of the best shooters in program history. I expect Orekhova to have a big year for the Bulls and easily average double digits and could lead the team in scoring throughout the year.

Neena Pacholke - 5'7" - Freshman - Guard - Tampa, FL (Freedom HS)

Pacholke joined the Bulls as a preferred walk-on. She averaged 3 PPG last season in high school. She will see very limited action like Micah Kroll but should be able to get on the court in late game situations.

Ariadna Pujol - 61" - Freshman - Guard - Mataro, Spain (GEM)

One of the most intriguing players in this recruiting class is Pujol. Coach Fernandez added Pujol, beating out at least 60 other programs that were interested in the international star. Pujol averaged 11 PPG and 3.7 RPG last season in the European Under-18 league, showing her raw scoring ability, but it was her ability to create all over the court that caught everyone's attention. She has been compared to Manu Gionobli, someone that can run the point, score, and harass people on defense. Pujol is battling Canedo for the starting PG spot, but she can play all over the court with her size and should be a huge weapon this season for the Bulls.

Shalethia Stringfield - 5'6" - Redshirt sophomore - Guard - Jacksonville, FL (Potters House Christian Academy)

Stringfield missed last season with an ACL injury but returns and brings more depth and skill to the USF lineup. In 2011, she averaged 3.3 PPG (shot 34%) and started in 11 games. She added 11 assists, 12 blocks, and 19 steals. Stringfield is a solid shooting guard that can create her own shot and drive to the basket. Coming off of the injury, I expect the coaching staff to slowly work her back into game condition, but expect her to be a reliable player off the bench or in spot starts throughout the season.

Tamara Taylor - 5'10" - Junior - Guard - St. Petersburg, FL (Gulf Coast State College)

Once again Coach Fernandez returns to the juco ranks and grabbed a big time talent in Taylor. Taylor comes from the same community college that produced the Smith twins and Caitlin Rowe and USF has had a lot of success from there. Taylor, ranked the 17th best junior college player brings a lot of scoring potential to the lineup. She is dangerous off the dribble, can create her own shot, and resembles Andrea Smith, a good sign for the Bulls. Taylor should be a starter on day one and could be a one-two punch with Orekhova on offense. Look for a big year from her.

Ivana Vuletic - 6'3" - Junior - Forward/Center - Norrkoping, Sweden (Hagogymasiet) (Northeast CC)

Vuletic joins the Bulls after coming up from the junior college ranks where she averaged 15 PPG and 10 RPG last season when she played in international competition. Vuletic resembles Caitlin Rowe a lot in her skill set with a solid paint game and brings another rebounding presence for the Bulls that helps provide depth behind Akila McDonald. She could even see spot starting time when Coach Fernandez goes to a bigger lineup.

Katelyn Weber - 6'5" - Freshman - Forward/Center - Little Rock, Arkansas (Hall HS)

Weber is a tall prospect that was added late in the recruiting process. She averaged 6.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 2.1 blocks per game her final year in prep school. Weber has solid height, but still needs to develop more skills on the offensive end (can be too mechanical at times in the paint). I fully expect he to redshirt this year as she continues to develop in her post game, but the future is bright for Weber.

Courtney Williams - 5'8" - Sophomore - Guard - Folkston, GA (Charlton County HS)

Williams is poised for a huge season for the Bulls. The speedy guard made 3 starts in 33 games, but came on late for the Bulls. She averaged 7.4 PPG (245 points) and shot 44% from the floor. She added 3.4 RPG, 26 steals, and had 12 blocks. Williams has all the potential in the world and with her speed, can be a huge weapon for the Bulls this year. I fully expect her to become a starter at some point for the Bulls, but if not, expect her to rotate in a lot (I mean a lot) into the rotation and add offense and speed all over the court for the Bulls.

Season projection: The Bulls start the season with some tough non-conference games against Clemson and Maryland, but also have a lot of winnable games on the slate as well. In conference play, Uconn, Rutgers, and Louisville, are all projected to be powers in the new AAC, but the Bulls have proven in the past they can contend with them. Coach Fernandez has a fairly young roster, but has loads of talent on it and should be able to mold them quickly during non-conference play.

I fully expect this team to win around 17-20 games this season and play for a post-season tournament. The NIT is very reachable and the NCAA tournament not too far off either. It will be a fun year at the Sun Dome.



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