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Would Firing Stan Heath be Another USF Mistake?

Heath is on the hot seat; should he be?

Would Heath and USF have had more success with Anthony Collins this season?
Would Heath and USF have had more success with Anthony Collins this season?
Kevin C. Cox

Tomorrow night could be USF’s final game of the season, again Rutgers in the American Athletic Conference Conference Tournament. It could also be the final game for Stan Heath as USF’s basketball coach.

Now here at Voodoo Five we are pretty split on whether that should be. However, we encourage a diversity of opinion in these blog-parts. So, speaking for myself, I think it’d be a mistake to let Heath go.

1. Sometimes, losing closes games isn’t always the worst thing.

I know losing close games feels like shit. Sometimes I’d rather witness a blow-out than lose a close one.

Now my colleague Ryan made the comparison that Stan Heath’s performance this season is akin to Skip Holtz' final season, in that they lost a lot of winnable games. While on the surface that’s a reasonable comparison to make, I have to respectfully disagree. Digging deeper, you’ll find that the composition of those two squads are pretty divergent. Skip’s last team was laden with upperclassmen (recruited by Jim Leavitt). He had a senior QB, and the top three rushers and two of the top three receivers were upperclassmen. The top seven tacklers were upperclassmen. That was an experienced team primed to win, so losing close games with an experienced team is unacceptable. With an average coach that team would have succeeded.

This season’s basketball team was a lot less experienced.

2. How inexperienced was USF this season?

USF was second in the conference in minutes played by freshmen.

Below is Minutes played per team, per class; players under 100 minutes omitted.

Minutes played Freshmen Sophomores Juniors Seniors
USF 1418 812 1936 1784
Cincinnati 1270 716 1396 2073
Connecticut 599 844 1863 2753
Houston 342 3006 1293 1484
Louisville 1212 895 1492 2429
Memphis 1005 996 0 3168
Rutgers 582 304 3730 1409
SMU 1502 1743 990 1550
Temple 1186 1689 2061 1122
UCF 653 2176 355 2447

With 772 minutes played, John Egbunu led all AAC freshmen; Chris Perry played the third-most freshman minutes with 635. To put that into perspective, only three other freshmen in the entire AAC played more than 600 minutes. Egbunu played more minutes than all of UCF's freshmen, and Perry and Egbunu each played more minutes than the freshmen classes at UConn, Houston, or Rutgers.

(SMU is the only team to play more frosh minutes than USF, and yes I'd take Hall-of-Famer Larry Brown over Stan Heath.)

Furthermore, Corey Allen Jr. played 996 minutes, over half of USF’s minutes played by juniors. Allen, a JuCo transfer, is also playing his first year at this level.

And while the Bulls were sixth in the AAC in minutes played by seniors, the 1784 minutes were played by only two players, Victor Rudd and Martino Brock. Every team that played more senior minutes played three or more seniors. Only two other teams played two or fewer seniors, fellow bottom-feeders Temple and Rutgers.

If you aren't getting one-and-done players, experience matters more than anything else.

A team that plays a lot of freshmen, and plays a lot of close games, even if it loses many of them, is almost certain to be better the next season. And the young guys showed a lot of promise.

Perry’s first year looks remarkably similar to Ron Anderson Jr.’s first season:

Ron Anderson Jr. 2010-11 33 22.5 7 50.3 0 65.3 1.2 6.4 0.8 0.5
Chris Perry 2013-14 31 20.5 8.8 50.2 0 57.7 0.5 5.3 0.7 0.3

Two things about Anderson's season: he was a junior (Perry's a freshman), and the team went 10-23. The next season they went 22-13 and won two NCAA games.

The one thing USF fans can be duly criticized for is lack of patience. The Bulls are part of the 95% of basketball teams that aren’t going to contend every season. We aren't a blue-blood. We aren't even nipping at the blue-bloods, like say, FSU or Miami. It takes three to four seasons to build into a contender, then those guys graduate and you have to rebuild. (It’s kind of a sad existence when you think about it. The team will be bad 2-3 seasons for that brief one or two seasons when they’ll contend, and then back down for 2-3 seasons. For USF that would be a positive trend!)

This team played well enough to be in almost every game this season, but youth betrayed them.

And, oh yeah someone was missing.

3. Losing Anthony Collins torpedoed this season.

In the preseason, Anthony Collins was the unanimous Voodoo Five Most Important Player. With AC handling the ball and bringing a lot of experience to the point guard position, even with a young team, we could have had some success. He was the only player who wasn't going to be a question mark. Then he became the biggest question mark of the season. Maybe an exclamation point.

He was sorely missed in the 14 games USF played that were decided by five points or less:

Record in games decided by 5 pts or less
With Collins 4-1
Without Collins 2-7

Now, obviously no one play, or even one player, can win a basketball game. But a healthy AC's steady play would likely have made those close games not as close.

Without AC, Heath had to burn Josh Heath’s redshirt. However, Heath smartly kept AC eligible for a medical redshirt. Let's say Collins was healthy enough to play the last few weeks; Heath could have played him, and maybe picked up a few meaningless wins. Instead, he stuck to his guns, which sets USF up to have Collins for two more seasons to lead a more experienced group over the next two years.

4. Here’s the list of coaches that have taken USF to the NCAA tournament:

Bobby Paschal

Stan Heath

4a. Here’s the list of coaches that have won NCAA tournament games at USF:

Stan Heath

USF went over 20 years without an NCAA berth. With an experienced team, Heath led USF to its best season ever. It’s like a longtime hostage being freed, and then trying to sneak into North Korea two years later.

And USF would be firing the guy with all of its NCAA wins ever. This seems myopic to me given his experience and the team's lack of experience this season.

5. The USF job isn’t as desirable as it used to be.

When Stan Heath was hired, USF was in the Big East, so even though USF had minimal history of success, at least we could point to the fact that we were in the Best College Basketball Conference Ever ™, which made it easier to hire a coach as good and accomplished as Heath, a guy who has now taken three different schools to the NCAA tournament.

Now? We are in a mid-major conference that will get even worse next season. USF has never been an attractive job, and it’s gotten even less attractive. We are replacing trips to Louisville and Syracuse with trips to Greenville and Tulsa. And we don't exactly have a stable athletic department right now.

It’s kind of fitting that Rutgers is our AAC tournament opponent. Back in the Leavitt days, I criticized his in-game calls constantly, especially the Rutgers games. I can't tell you how many times I yelled at the TV. In retrospect, I took those 8-5 seasons for granted. I was lulled into thinking the team would always be good. I didn’t have respect for the process nor patience to see it unfold.

Just because we got a taste doesn't mean we get to stay at the table.

That’s where we are with Heath. It's incredibly hard to be in the 20% of schools that go to the dance. The process is long, especially with freshmen. It would be one thing if he brought in 3 JuCo guys who will be gone after another season. Instead, we’ll get to see Egbunu and Perry develop for three more seasons. I’m excited about that.

USF Athletics has made a lot of mistakes over the past 5 years. I’m afraid firing Stan Heath will be the next one.

Correction: record in games decided by 5 points or less corrected from 5-0/1-8 to 4-1/2-7.