In my weekly Big East Power Rankings last season, I was running out of jokes implying that Stan Heath should be updating his resume and gathering boxes to pack up his office since I was certain he was getting the ax this offseason. Now I have to load up on new material because somehow Heath kept his job as lead man of the South Florida Bulls. Heath is far from in the clear though as South Florida will likely struggle once again in the Big East.
After relying on Dominique Jones to carry the load during the 2009-10 season, Augustus Gilchrist was supposed to be the guy a year ago. However, Gilchrist never put a stranglehold on that role despite possessing the inside/outside game to become a tough matchup defensively. With Jarrid Famous exhausting his eligibility, Gilchrist will likely pair up with Toarlyn Fitzpatrick in the starting frontcourt. The physical Ron Anderson Jr. will likely come off the bench giving Heath an experienced sixth man who can play either forward spot.
JUCO transfer Andre Jackson and freshman Jordan Omogbehin epitomize the phrase BIG man. Jackson is 6-10, 310 pounds, while Omogbehin stands 7-3 and tips the scale at 291. Jackson is more polished on the offensive end, while Omogbehin is still a work in progress.
Jawanza Poland and Hugh Robertson figure to start on the wing and form a very athletic combination. Shaun Noriega is a long-distance gunner and will play a huge role off the bench since South Florida was a terrible three-point shooting team last year. Arizona State transfer Victor Rudd will add needed depth on the wing since Mike Burwell chose to transfer. Rudd is a great athlete but too often falls in love with his inconsistent jumper.
The point guard position received an overhaul this offseason. Anthony Crater was dismissed due to a violation of team rules, while Sheldrick Hayes decided to leave the program. That leaves Lavonte Darity as the only returning point guard and he was seldom used during his freshman season.
More than likely, JUCO transfer Blake Nash will assume the starting role even though he is more of a scoring point guard. Freshman Anthony Collins will also vie for playing time and is the opposite of Nash as Collins' game revolves around getting his teammates involved and being more of a true floor general.
The Sun Dome is currently undergoing a $35 million-plus renovation, meaning the Bulls will play their home games in one of three arenas scattered throughout the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The transformation of their home arena is much needed and the updated facilities should serve as an asset on the recruiting trail as the program tries to compete for better talent in the ever competitive Big East.
I think South Florida has a realistic chance of being more competitive this season. If Gilchrist can take the next step with his game and the point guard position figures itself out sooner rather than later, maybe Heath has a chance of the Bulls finishing near the middle of the pack rather than hanging out by the basement. To be honest though, I just do not believe in his coaching abilities and think he will end up on the unemployment line next spring as South Florida once again struggles to compete with the big dogs.
Player to Watch: Jawanza Poland, SG
In his first year at South Florida after transferring from Hutchinson Community College, Poland proved that he can leap out of the gym. He's explosive in the open floor and is a solid defender. However, the 6-4 wing shot less than 23 percent from downtown but still proceeded to chuck 110 three-pointers. Poland needs to either improve his shot selection or become more reliable from beyond the arc if he is going to become a more complete player and help the Bulls improve from where they finished a year ago with the 281st-ranked field goal percentage and 309th-ranked scoring team in the nation.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/12 vs. Vermont
11/19 vs. Old Dominion (Hall of Fame Tournament)
11/20 vs. Kentucky/Penn State (Hall of Fame Tournament)