JAMIE: I think I'm ready to talk about what happens next with the USF basketball team. Anyone want to make an opening statement, and we'll go from there?
GARY: I'm cautiously optimistic that USF basketball can be a lot more competitive in the new league. Heath has recruited well of late, and the competition level gets a lot easier. Josh Pastner is no John Calipari; UConn-USF games are usually close; Louisville's gone after a year; and several DePaul-like programs join. One wonders how many bids this league will rate, but I think if USF can consistently beat the weaker teams and win a few against the top ones, we'll stand a chance most years.
RYAN: Agreed. I thought the new league, while horrible for just about every other reason, could actually wind up benefiting the basketball team. They'll be swimming with fish more their size.
But while the easy answer to say "they were undermanned last season. Add in Heath's recruits and easier competition and we're golden," I don't think it's that simple a solution. Last year's team had some brutal losses down the stretch, losses where it looked like the entire team had turned into Victor Rudd and just straight didn't show. USF basketball can't really ever afford to not show, and compared to the grittiness that Heath had built this team on it was pretty shocking to see.
So I think Heath has some serious work to do. No matter what, next season should be pretty telling one way or the other.
MATT: With the recruits coming in and the watered-down competition, I think USF basketball is poised to notch more wins, but there are still a lot of personnel issues on this team that have to be addressed.
The front court, with Chris Perry and the other top recruits, will help with the rebounding and paint position issues we had, but there are two major areas that concern me -- backup point guard, and a go-to scorer. When Anthony Collins sat on the bench or left the game, this team had no backup. Martino Brock was hard to watch at times, Jawanza Poland is gone (he wasn't a great PG anyways) and Heath turned to Mike McCloskey in times of need. I think Drew Davis and Josh Heath will be solid options as the back up, but time will tell.
JAMIE: The key is getting a backup point guard to stay. Seems like that's a trend in college hoops -- if you're not starting or getting big minutes, you want to transfer somewhere that you will. Having Stan's kid fill that role should help.
MATT: The other issue is finding a consistent scorer on the team. Victor Rudd has put up numbers, but he disappears at times, seems disinterested in the game, and starts taking long 3's. I honestly hope he leaves before the start of next season. Collins isn't a big-time scorer either, so they need someone to step up and give them a solid 12 points a night. I understand Heath's offense doesn't rely on someone scoring 20 a night, but the dropoff in production after Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Rudd last year was ugly. Maybe Hawkins becomes that guy that can score 15 a night.
GARY: I'm inclined to give last year's team a mulligan. The roster situation was so untenable, with all the bigs playing way out of position and Anthony Collins having to play 40 minutes, that it's amazing things didn't go even worse. Hopefully Heath can combine the personality of the 2011-12 team with the new talent level coming in. I'd love to see Ron Anderson have a role with the program; he seemed to be the driving personality of that team.
RYAN: I'm not sure last year's team deserves a free pass. Their effort down the stretch was abysmal at times. Like I said, they were obviously brutally undermanned, but there's no excuse for some of those games.
MATT: I have to agree, a lot of times there was a lack of effort out of some of the players. Rudd seemed to decide when he actually wanted to try. The same a few times with Poland (IMO). Then you had max effort guys like Zach LeDay and Javontae Hawkins, that always went as hard as they could.
COLLIN: I'm actually OK with last season. On most nights the effort was good, but the players knew how outgunned they were as well, and that'll cause work rates to sag. It's tough to watch Fitzy get dunked on over and over and feel like you've got a fighting chance if you're a perimeter player. I think that's perfectly normal, though still not a good thing. Asking for sustained success at USF in basketball just isn't realistic as our fan support sucks, our admin isn't helping, and a very pretty new building continued to draw flies in terms of attendance. We're going to have to live with up years and down years until we get it together.
ANDREW: Let's take a look at this year's records for the teams going into the American:
Louisville - 14-4 Big East, 35-5 overall
Memphis - 16-0 C-USA, 31-5 overall
Temple - 11-5 Atlantic 10, 24-10 overall
Cincinnati - 9-9 Big East, 22-12 overall
Connecticut - 10-8 Big East, 20-10 overall
C. Florida - 9-7 C-USA, 20-11 overall
Houston - 7-9 C-USA, 20-13 overall
Rutgers - 5-13 Big East, 15-16 overall
SMU - 5-11 C-USA, 15-17 overall
USF - 3-15 Big East, 12-19 overall
This is going to be a tough conference next season. It should be a 3-5 bid league. Louisville will drop off losing Smith and Siva, but they'll still be good, as will Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati. UConn should improve in Ollie's second year, and they'll be eligible for the postseason.
I don't see how we even get to the top half of the league. We have our work cut out for us. Fitzpatrick is gone, and we won't have a consistent outside threat. Rudd might leave, Bringing in some bigs will help, but they'll still be young. Maybe Shaun Noriega gets the medical redshirt, but probably not. .500 will be a great year.
JAMIE: Well, remember the level of competition for Temple and all the other new teams wasn't as high as it was for the teams that are stuck here. The only way C-USA has been a multi-bid league was if someone other than Memphis won the conference tournament. And all of USF's worst matchups from the Big East are leaving.
GARY: It's a decided drop-off from UConn/Cincy/Temple/Memphis to everybody else. It feels a little like the Atlantic 10 in that regard. I'd bet USF is well-positioned to be the best of "everybody else," and good enough to beat the bigger teams occasionally. 11-20/3-15 in the Big East feels like about 17-14/9-9, all other things being equal.
And I've got a funny feeling Memphis is going to make the opposite trip. They're is going from a league with no strong programs to a league with several. They don't have the talent level they had five years ago, and have been merely winning a bad league instead of dominating it. I don't think that cuts it here.
JAMIE: I'm not so sure about Memphis taking a dip. Tougher competition, yes, but that gives them conference games to get up for. They could blatantly take nights off in that league and still win games by double digits. Memphis has a smart young coach, fan support, a recruiting base, and basketball is the #1 priority. They'll be good.
GARY: Memphis will be good, I just don't think they'll be 29-5 good anymore. And I don't think USF will be 11-20 bad anymore either. Rutgers and UCF are a mess because of off-court problems. Houston and SMU simply don't have Big East talent. If USF doesn't win at least five conference games against those four opponents, then we have a problem.
COLLIN: Fran Dunphy can flat out coach. Temple will be a consistent top contender as long as he is there. One of the most respected people and minds in basketball, and a class act to boot. He gets the most of out his roster every time, and Temple is always committed to winning in hoops. Pastner at Memphis can really recruit, and he's a Calipari protege in all terms. Calipari is truly underrated as a game coach, and I think the lack of options Memphis had on offense this year (Chris Crawford is 13-47 from the floor in a pickup game while I've been writing this email) slowed their development.
Memphis and UConn I think will be the best teams in this league long term, with Cincinnati and Temple right behind them. We're still not going to be competitive long term, but much like Miami this year, we can have very good/great seasons if everything falls into place (remember, the Canes are going to suck next year). I think it's just too soon to tell if 2013-14 will be one of those years for USF.
In Part 2 tomorrow, we'll continue our discussion with players that we think may look for greener pastures before next season.