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November 3, 2013

Preview of men's basketball

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Men's basketball is hoping year two in the new Sun Dome brings success, considering how ugly the 2012-13 season turned out a year after making the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history.

The Bulls are entering their first year in the American Athletic Conference, looking to return to the post-season after a disappointing 2012-2013 season. The league has a lot of new faces, but the Bulls are facing a long road ahead. They have been picked to finish 8th in the league, showing no one has a lot of faith in them, but this team is ready to surprise.

Last year, the Bulls went just 12-19, including a dismal 3-15 mark in the Big East. All of this coming off of a historic 2011-2012 season where the Bulls went 22-14 (12-6) and secured their first NCAA tournament win in program history.

A lot went wrong last season. The Bulls were undersized in the paint, forcing players like Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Victor Rudd to play out of position and hurting their overall games.

In 2011, the Bulls had the size and veteran leadership up front with Ron Anderson Jr. and Augustus Gilchrist, giving Coach Stan Heath the perfect match-ups he wanted and the success the program has long yearned for. Last year, he didn't have that luxury and it was painful to watch.

Last year hurt everyone, from the fans, to the coaches, and to the players, they were not happy the way things went. Rudd was quoted saying the team was back in the weight room the day after the season ended, preparing for the next one. And after a long off-season and a loaded recruiting class, the new year in the AAC is here, but there are already doubts that this group will be any better than the one we saw last season.

Several early pre-season media polls have the Bulls finishing last (out of 10 teams) in the AAC, with Louisville, Temple, Connecticut, and Cincinnati dominating the league. The coaches have the Bulls finishing 8th in the league.

These polls, along with last seasons' results, are motivating the team. They hear what the media says and they are set to prove them wrong and get the program back in the dance.

The 2013-2014 squad is young, but loaded with depth and talent, something Heath hasn't had since he took over back in 2007. In 2011, Coach Heath had the right pieces in place, something he worked hard to achieve since the day he landed in Tampa, and it worked. He had size in the paint and just enough offense to get into the dance, but last year was a rebuilding year for him. He didn't have the personnel needed to be a competitive team in the tough Big East conference, but now in the AAC, he does.

Heath has the size up front with John Egbunu, Chris Perry, and Zach LeDay. He has the scoring threats with Javontae Hawkins, Victor Rudd, and Musa Abdul-Aleem. And he has the skill at point guard with Anthony Collins and Corey Allen, all the pieces needed to make noise and possibly get into the big dance.

Can this team make it to the dance? The team and coaches believe they can and have all the tools necessary to make it happen. The team is being overlooked by many, but they are poised to make a run and shock the AAC.



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