Fresh off a horrifying 39-point loss at home against Louisville, the Bulls looked to regroup with a stronger effort for their road rematch at Memphis. They did come out strong for the opening six minutes, taking a 12-11 lead on a Martino Brock jumper (Brock was the only USF player who put together a decent game today-- a season-high 17 points and six rebounds), but sputtered the rest of the way en route to an 80-58 loss.
All the usual issues were there for the Bulls. They shot poorly--just 33.9% from the field, a figure that drops to sub-30 percent if you take away Brock's performance--and their mini-run at the beginning of the game was snuffed as soon as Memphis switched to a zone. The Tigers led by 12 at the half and pushed the lead to 20 within the first eight minutes of the second frame.
It was a game that raised more questions than answers for the Bulls, namely these few:
What's going on with Victor Rudd?
Rudd is streaky at the best of times, but he hasn't played even remotely well during the Bulls' four-game losing streak, averaging just 7.3 points on 28% shooting. Maybe Stan Heath got frustrated, or maybe there are underlying factors we don't know about here, but Rudd was benched for the last 18 minutes of the game with no immediate explanation. Which is better for the Bulls: Rudd playing poorly, or not playing at all?
How can this year's team be just as bad (or worse) as last year's?
The obvious answer here is the loss of Anthony Collins, but the team shouldn't just collapse like this without their star. The Bulls currently rank dead last in Division I (!!!) in three-point percentage. Rudd's three-point percentage is down 2% from last season. Brock and Musa Abdul-Aleem's are down nearly 15%. The Bulls can get to the line, but they're shooting only 66% when they get there. Those are numbers that don't just magically revert to normal with the addition of Collins and incoming freshman sharpshooter Troy Holston. Heath just brought in one of the best recruiting classes--if not the best--in program history. There's far too much talent here to be regularly losing games by 20+ points. Which brings us to the last question...
What does this mean for Stan Heath?
Fans are starting to get irritated with Heath, and not without reason. The team has faced a murderer's row in the AAC over the last four games, and apart from a hard-fought loss to Cincinnati, the effort just hasn't been there. The SMU and Louisville games were essentially over by the first media timeout, and today's game was pretty much put away by halftime. That's not acceptable with the amount of talent on the roster. After seeing Heath work absolute magic with the 2011 squad, it's pretty heartbreaking to see one of his Bulls teams underachieve. With a new AD coming in, you'd think that coaches across the board will be reevaluated (LELO), but is there any realistic better option than Heath? I don't think so, but Bulls fans are coming to a harsh realization that not everything he touches turns to gold.
The Bulls have two more tough games coming up-- home against SMU and at Cincinnati-- before the schedule eases up a bit. Maybe we'll see more of what this team is capable of against the likes of UCF and Rutgers, but regardless, it's frustrating to write off another USF basketball season before February.