Stan Heath and the USF Bulls start of the 40th year of existence with what could be their hardest schedule on record. The Bulls will be without a permanent home this year with the Sun Dome getting a complete makeover, so USF will rotate their home games between the St. Pete Times Forum, the Bob Martinez Sports Center at the University of Tampa, and even the Lakeland Center for an exhibition against Florida Southern.
Even though the Bulls play in the toughest conference in the country, Coach Heath still wanted to give his team a tough challenge in the non-conference portion of the schedule. USF will take on NCAA teams Old Dominion and possibly Kentucky in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tournament. The Bulls will also take on national power Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse and head up to VCU, who will look to replicate last year's Final Four run.
The backcourt has the ability to be very good this season, but the beginning of the year will see its fair share of hiccups as Heath will be breaking in an almost entirely new group of players at point guard. Last years starting PG Anthony Crater was dismissed following a "Violation of Team Rules", and backups Mike Burwell and Shedrick Haynes transferred to Towson and Tarelton State over the offseason.
Sophomore LaVonte Dority is the only point guard back, but Heath will look on to Dority and a couple of newcomers to take the 33 minutes of gametime Crater had last year. The first person to get a crack at the offense will be JUCO transfer Blake Nash. The Sophomore from Williston State was a JUCO All-American last year, averaging 22.3 PTS/5.6 REB/4.5 AST/2.3 STL a game for the Tetons. Nash is extremely aggressive on both sides of the ball, and sees the floor exceptionally well. Nash has an uncanny ability of getting to the rim with ease, and will be the offensive spark we lacked next year at the point.
Also competing for the point guard job are Dority and freshman Anthony Collins. Dority played sparingly as a freshman last year, only playing about 6 minutes a contest in 26 games. Dority averaged .7 PTS/.3 REB/.4 AST last year in his limited time and looked tentative while running the offense last year. LaVonte does have the pedigree as he played exceptionally well at Forman HS in Chicago, averaging 20 PTS/6 AST as a senior two years ago.
Freshman Anthony Collins is the other point guard, and he has already turned heads with his play on the defensive side of the court already. The Houston native averaged 12 PTS/8.3 AST last year for Westbury Christian, and does have the ability to be a productive member on the team this year. Collins will be more of a pass first point guard, but as long as he can run the offense efficiently, the Bulls should be fine when he is on the court.
At the 2, Heath's options will be limited until Jawanza Poland comes back from a lingering back injury. He is the most exciting player USF has when he is on the floor, and his highflying dunks are something to behold. His 9.1 PTS were 2nd on the team last year, and his production will be hard to replace while he is out. Hugh Robertson should be the starter at the 2, and would have probably started even if Poland was healthy. At the 3rd guard spot last year, Hugh averaged 8.3 PTS/4.3 REB/1.8 AST a game and was one of the more reliable players on the team last year. Robertson was also taxed with guarding the opposing team's best guard. He is more of a threat from outside than Poland, but he's nowhere near as proficient as Shaun Noriega.
After struggling during the first half of the year, Noriega came on strong during Big East play, averaging over 41% from behind the arc in Big East play. Shaun averaged 6.1 PTS pergame last season, but in the last 8 games of the year doubled that mark. A big reason that Noriega didn't get more minutes last year was his deficiencies on defense, but Heath has been saying nothing but good things about Noriega's improvement on that side of the court. With Noriega's range, he can make opposing defenses pay if the collapse when the ball gets to our posts.