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October 3, 2013

Preview - Men's Basketball

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The 2013-2014 men's basketball season is upon us and there are high expectations entering this season as Coach Stan Heath enters with a retooled roster and staff. Heath made some staff changes in the offseason and put together a decorated recruiting class that will make an immediate impact as the Bulls look to rebound and return to the dance after missing it last season.

Last year, the Bulls went 12-19 (3-15) in the final year of the Big East. The team struggled throughout the year without a big time center in the middle of the court and star players like Toarlyn Fitzpatrick played out of position for most of the season, hurting both the offense and the defense.

The Bulls averaged just 58 PPG last year, shooting 39% while they allowed 62 PPG, shooting 42%. USF was able to play well on defense, but they just didn't have anything on offense to help their cause. USF shot 69% from the free throw line, shot 31% from the 3-point range, and were out-rebounded 32 to 36 last season, showing again how badly they were undermanned inside the paint without a legit center to start every game for the Bulls.

USF enters a new conference this season, the AAC, but will face powers like Connecticut, Louisville, and newcomers like Memphis, that will provide a challenge. If the young Bulls are ready to prove what they can do, USF should be very competitive in this league. Let's run through the roster and see what they bring to the show.

Roster

No. 1 - Musa Abdul-Aleem - 6'5" 221 lbs. - Junior - Guard - Atlanta, GA (WD Muhammed HS) (Georgia Perimeter College)
Abdul-Aleem played in just 9 games last season due to a foot injury that hobbled him at first and then forced him to shut it down for the year. In that brief time, he was 9 for 37 shooting (3.3 PPG) and averaged 1.4 RPG (13 total). He had 3 assists (3 turnovers), 3 blocks, and 2 steals. Now that he is fully healthy, Abdul-Aleem brings a lot to the table for the Bulls. He is a strong, big defender that can play on the wing but also can drive and create his own shot. Abdul-Aleem will be battling for the shooting guard position and will probably come off of the bench to start the year, but he brings a lot to the game and will be a key factor this season.

No. 4 Corey Allen Jr. - 6'1" 147 lbs. - Junior - Guard - St. Louis, MO (Ritenow HS) (Mt. San Antonio College)
Allen Jr. is a fast, athletic point guard that can create his own shot and gives the Bulls a big time back-up for Anthony Collins. Last season, he averaged 21 PPG (shot 61%) and averaged 4 APG. Last season, the Bulls' offense hit the wall when Collins went to the bench. Players like Martino Brock, Jawanza Poland, and Javontae Hawkins ran the point when Collins needed a breather and the offense suffered. Allen gives the Bulls a legitimate point guard that can score and will be able to run the offense without any setbacks. Allen will see a lot of playing time this year and brings great depth and skill to the USF roster this season.

No. 0 Martino Brock - 6'5" 205 lbs. - Senior - Guard - Memphis, TN (Maine Central Institute) (S. Alabama)
Brock started in 20 games out of 31 games played. He averaged 5.5 PPG (171 total) while shooting 38%. He added 3.7 RPG, had 9 blocks, and added 33 steals as well. Brock played well last season, helping on defense and doing a solid job on offense. This season, I would expect Brock's playing time to be limited a bit due to the depth at the shooting guard position with Hawkins emerging as a star and Abdul-Aleem healthy and ready to go. Look for Brock to get spot starting time (if any) and to come off the bench for short periods of time.

No. 24 - Dre'Kalo Clayton - 6'6" 275 lbs. - Freshman - Forward - Orlando, FL (Maynard Evans HS)
Clayton (3-star recruit) brings a big body to the post that should bring inside scoring and rebounding to the depth chart, something the Bulls lacked last year on the bench. In his junior season, Clayton averaged 11 PPG and 7.6 RPG, showing his ability to clean up the glass and score in the paint. The coaches have mentioned he looks like Ron Anderson Jr., a high motor player that will battle in the paint and get the hard rebounds and baskets inside the lane. Clayton is probably going to ride the bench behind Perry and others at the forward position, but he adds great depth on the roster and if needed, gives the Bulls a big man that can help defend and get rebounds. He has a bright future ahead of him.

No. 11 - Anthony Collins - 6'1" 175 lbs. - Junior - Guard - Houston, TX (Westbury Christian School)
The USF offense lives and dies with Anthony Collins. Last season, Collins averaged 8.6 PPG (shot 39%) adding 2.3 RPG and 6.4 APG (192 total). He had 82 turnovers in 30 games, averaging 2.7 assists to each turnover during year, a strong number but something he could improve on. He also added 5 blocks and 44 steals. Collins runs the point for the Bulls and his ability to stay low and attack to the basket makes him one of the toughest players in the country to defend. Collins's offensive game has developed over time and should be even strong now. Collins now has big men in the paint that he can feed, allowing him to create more and now with Corey Allen on the bench, he won't have to play as much and take as many shots as he has the last two years. Collins is poised for a huge year and with the offense ready to work at a faster pace, Collins should thrive and have a big year.

No. 5 - John Egbunu - 6'10" 249 lbs. - Freshman - Center - Ft. Walton Beach, FL (Ft. Walton HS)
Egbunu (4-star recruit) is one of the highest touted recruits in program history. Egbunu was rated the 7th best center in the 2013 class and the 72nd rated star on the ESPN 150. Egbunu is a big time center that has raw athletic ability to not only defend, but also to score on the offensive end. He has the footwork to battle in the paint but can step away just a bit to hit a little mid-range shot. He is a big, athletic man that gives the Bulls a monster in the middle of the paint and gives the Bulls something they did not have last season. Look for Egbunu to be a starter on day one and to be an impact player from the start for USF. He is a huge weapon for the Bulls and could help turn their fortunes to the post season.

No. 23 - Javontate Hawkins - 6'5" 202 lbs. - Sophomore - Guard - Flint, MI (Huntington Prep)
Hawkins emerged on the scene last year, showing his skill set here and there, but didn't get a chance to take it to another level. He averaged 4.5 PPG (10 starts) and shot 42% (27% from 3-point range) he averaged 1.6 RPG and added 3 blocks and 7 steals. Hawkins had his ups and downs last season but proved he has the skill set to become a big time star for the Bulls and a go-to scorer all over the court. I have Hawkins as a starter on day one from the shooting guard position, an area where he will be able to attack with Rudd and LeDay at the forward spots and his position clear to attack and move all over the court. Hawkins is battling Abdul-Aleem for the SG spot, but I think Hawkins ability to get up and down the court better and attack gives him the edge to start and should lead to a big year for him.

No. 10 - Josh Heath - 6'2" 166 lbs. - Freshman - Tampa, FL (Tampa Prep)
Heath, the son of HC Stan Heath, led his team to the State 3A title last year, leading the way with 12.4 PPG, 7.1 APG, 2.5 RPG. Heath wasn't a highly recruited player but brings a solid skill set to the floor with his ability to handle the ball and attack the paint. He will take a redshirt this season (behind Collins and Allen right now) but should be able to hit the weight room and learn while under his dad's coaching. He could see time in 2014 as a reserve if he is able to add weight and prove himself in practice.

No. - Zach LeDay - 6'7" 245 lbs. - Sophomore - The Colony, TX (The Colony HS)
LeDay emerged last season averaging 4.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and added 17 blocks and 12 steals as a reserve and spot starting time throughout the year. LeDay showed flashes last year with his rebounding and ability to finish at the rim and this off-season, he has continued the hard work, adding 20 pounds of muscle. LeDay should be a starter at the forward position this season and help give the Bulls a big, inside presence with Rudd moving back to the 3 spot and teaming up with Egbunu in the paint on defense. Look for LeDay to have a big year for the Bulls, both on offense and especially on defense where he should be a rebounding monster all year.

No. 15 - Shemiye McLendon - 6'3" - Redshirt junior - Guard - Vero Beach, FL (IMG Academy) (Hofstra)
McLendon transferred over last season and took a redshirt. In his last season at Hofstra, he averaged 5.4 PPG and 1.8 RPG, mainly coming off of the bench. For USF, he will likely play that roll again and will see limited time due to the depth at the two guard spot. If there is a late game situation and there is foul trouble for the depth chart, McLendon gives Coach Heath a solid, late bench option to put into the fray.

No. 35 - Jordan Omogbehin - 7'3" 330 lbs. - Redshirt sophomore - Center - Lagos, Nigeria (Atlantic Shores Christian Academy)
Omogbehin was pressed into playing time due to the lack of depth at center and he results weren't that great. In 24 games, he scored a total of 16 points (.7 PPG) and 1.1 RPG. In 135 minutes of play, he totaled 27 personal fouls, which is a foul every 5 minutes of play he saw (also added 5 blocks). Omogbehin is a massive human being. Walking past him makes you realize what kind of giant he is, however, it doesn't translate well to the basketball court. Omogbehin is fairly stationary in the paint and doesn't move his feet well. With his size, it takes him a bit to get up the court and he often fouls anyone that comes in the lane. Look for him to play very sparingly this year due to the arrival of Egbunu and Perry in the paint.

No. 23 - Chris Perry - 6'8" 241 lbs. - Freshman - Forward/Center - Bartow, FL (Bartow Senior HS)
Perry is a big, athletic post player that has added weight since coming to campus (listed at 277 lbs. now and still mobile). He averaged 13.3 PPG and 11.2 RPG last season. Perry has deceptive skill and speed for his size, giving him the ability to play at forward but also able to post up at center as well. I expect Perry to start the year on the bench, behind LeDay, but he will come in a lot this season and help provide rebounding and points in the paint. He is a huge talent that will be a big addition to the Bulls front line.

No. 2 - Victor Rudd Jr. - 6'9" 229 lbs. - Redshirt senior - Forward - Los Angeles, CA (Finlay Prep, NV) (Arizona State University)
Rudd was the big go-to scorer last season, averaging 12.3 PPG (369 total points) while shooting 38% (28% from 3-point range). He also averaged 6.9 RPG and added 32 assists, 22 steals and 14 blocks last year. Rudd is a very athletic and talented player, but can make poor decisions in his shot selection, going for 3-pointers when he has all the skill to finish at the rim. Rudd played out of position last season and now moves back to his natural spot at the 3 position, giving him even more favorable match-ups when driving baseline to the basket. Rudd scored 333 points in 2011, leaving him just 298 points shy of the 1000 career point total (he needs to averaged 9.6 PPG to hit that mark). If he stays healthy, he will blow past that point and could have a career year.

No. 30 - Bryon "Bo" Zeigler - 6'6" 180 lbs. - Freshman - Guard/Forward - Detroit, MI (Community HS)
Zeigler is a very athletic wingman that can play the small forward or shooting guard position. He can handle the ball and also post up in the paint, giving him more flexibility on where he can play on the court. Zeigler probably won't see the court this year due to the depth ahead of him and his need to bulk up just a bit (180 lbs. is a little light to play inside the paint). Look for him to learn and be prepared for the coming years.

Projected starting lineup:

Center: John Egbunu
Forward: Zach LeDay
Forward: Victor Rudd Jr.
Guard: Javontae Hawkins
Guard: Anthony Collins

Rudd and Collins are cornerstones for this starting lineup, but the other spots are tricky to guess. Hawkins is a very athletic shooting guard, but Abdul-Aleem could get the starting nod just as well, both are neck and neck. I believe Egbunu is a starter on day one due to the lack of an established center on the roster. Egbunu is a pure talent and despite his youth, should get the starting job. The other hard spot was the other forward position, but at the end of the day, I feel LeDay is poised for a break out season and brings the most experience at that spot. Chris Perry is talented and will see plenty of playing time, but LeDay has proven he can play in the paint and only seems to be getting better.

Season projection:

Last year was disappointing for the Bulls after the year before they reached the NCAA tournament. Many pre-season polls are predicting a bad finish in the new AAC conference and there is reason to worry in league play. Facing Louisville, Temple, Memphis, and Uconn give the Bulls huge challenges to face throughout the year, but I'm confident they will finish better than 10th place. This is a very talent, although young, roster that Coach Heath has. For one of the first times (if ever) he has a big time center and depth on the front line that will improve the USF defense and rebounding. He also has depth at point guard and will be able to push the temp of the offense with the skilled wing players he has. I expect this team to win over 15 games and battle for an NCAA spot (NIT if not). This should be a fun year to watch at the Sun Dome.



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