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Analysis - where the Bulls are
The 2012-13 Men's basketball season has not been quite like the 2011-12 year for the USF Bulls.
A season removed from a trip to the third round of the NCAA tournament, USF finds itself searching for an identity while navigating the gauntlet that is the Big East conference schedule.
After another rough loss at No. 25 Marquette on Monday night, 63-50, the Bulls sit at an overall 10-10 and 1-7 in Big East play. This has been quite a different year than last, when the Bulls lost six conference games all season.
Don't look up
The sky is not falling, the world is not ending, the Bulls have had one of the toughest early conference schedules in the country. Of the first eight conference opponents the Bulls have faced, five of them, Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Marquette, were either ranked or spent time ranked during the season. In fact, the Bulls have had a lead in seven of the eight conference games they have played.
What's the difference?
The biggest difference between 2012-13 and 2011-12 is the post presence. Waverly Austin's ineligibility, Jordan Omogbehin's lack of development and injuries to Kore White have left the Bulls without a true post player and rebounder.
USF has had to rely on Toarlyn Fitzpatrick as a center, which has proven to be a difficult adjustment for the 6-foot-8 Tampa native. Fitzpatrick has always been regarded as a better wing player, his post positioning and shot selection skills have suffered this year due to lack of playing time down low the past three years.
The Bulls have had to play some of the best skilled post teams in their first eight games, lacing them up against the likes of CJ Fair, Daniel Ochefu, Yarou Mouphtaou, Gorgui Dieng and Jack Cooley.
Crash the boards!
In their eight conference games, the Bulls are -101 in the rebound margin - out-boarded by a staggering 303-202 total. The average rebound margin for USF is -12.6. Clearly, the Bulls are missing Ron Anderson Jr. and Augustus Gilchrist down low on the blocks.
Without a true rebounder down low, USF has watched other teams get second, third and even fourth chances on one possession. These second and third chances for opponents limit the Bulls' offensive chances and, of course, give their opponents more opportunities on the offensive end.
Collins is the key
Another bright spot from the year has been the play of USF point guard Anthony Collins. Last season, it was perceived that Collins was a top point guard in the NCAA. This year, it is a reality.
Collins entered the game against Marquette seventh in the nation in assists, averaging 7.2 per game. The sophomore guard, to make a Reggie Jackson reference, is clearly the 'straw that stirs the drink' for the Bulls' offense.
Although USF may go long stretches without scoring, it is usually when the Bulls struggle to get the ball into the guard's hands. Collins' ability to take care of the ball, he's thirteenth in the nation in assist-turnover margin at 2.93, has had a team-wide affect; the Bulls are seventh in the country in turnovers, averaging just 10.5 per game. The future for the USF program looks bright with Collins running the offense.
Defense remains strong
The defense has remained stout for the Bulls in conference play. USF is allowing 62.4 points per game in conference play and has held seven of its opponents below their season average, the only team to beat its average was Rutgers.
USF's active hands on defense are forcing 10.6 turnovers and 7.3 steals per conference game. It has been impressive that the Bulls have been able to limit other teams considering the lack of size down low. USF has done it all on quick closeouts, active hands, a solid defensive rotation and ball pressure. The Bulls have been able to hold opponents below their season average while allowing an average of 32 points in the paint and 14 second chance points.
Another bright spot for the defense has been Martino Brock, who has taken Hugh Robertson's role as the defensive stopper. Although Robertson's defensive presence has been missed this year, Brock has done an admirable job against some of the best scorers in the Big East.
The Freshman class is the future
The freshmen have really shined in the first 20 games of the Bulls' schedule. First-year Bulls JaVontae Hawkins and Zach LeDay have seen valuable and educational playing time since conference competition has begun.
The pair responded, giving the Bulls a much-needed lift and providing, what USF head coach Stan Heath referred to as, some 'important energy.' LeDay has looked very comfortable on the court for the Bulls the past three games.
The forward is averaging 5.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent in conference play. LeDay is displaying a new-look jump hook, a la Kareem Abdul Jabar, and his hard-nosed attitude has made him one of the toughest defenders on the team. Hawkins looks like he has a better understand of his role on the floor. The Michigan native, forward is fifth on the team in scoring in conference play, averaging 7.6 points per game.
As it stands now, the Bulls have 11 games left in their schedule, including one matchup in the Big East tournament. There is a little over one-third of the season left for Stan Heath and USF. Although it is quite clear that this season will not be quite as magical as the last, Bulls fans still have a lot to watch. USF's conference schedule will also get a bit easier in the next few games. If the Bulls can get some momentum going and some of the younger players on the roster ride the high energy, who knows where this team may end up.
Regardless of whether or not they go on a run, I don't see a last place finish in the Big East for the Bulls this year.
Nick Gryniewicz is the Managing Editor of Runningthebulls.com - he also serves as the student voice of the USF Bulls Men's basketball home games. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org