Coming into this season, nobody expected that the South Florida Bulls men’s basketball team would actually be...good. We knew second-year head coach Brian Gregory turned over the entire roster completely and had installed a winning culture—even if it hadn’t translated to on the court wins— inside the Muma Basketball Facility that didn’t exist previously.
We also knew any success to be had from this season was going to come from sophomore guard David Collins, but for some reason, Collins has slumped terribly in his second year in Tampa.
You remember Collins dropping 30 points on Memphis during the opening round of the conference tournament and nearly willing the Bulls to victory late. Those same heroics have shown themselves in flashes this season, most notably with his 17-point second half performance versus UConn to help spark the comeback win on January 2. Then again late against Wichita State last week when he drilled a corner three to ice the game.
But what has eluded Collins is the consistency in his shooting and ball security that’s supposed to come with being a year older in the same system.
Collins is shooting 38% from the field, 29% from three, and just under 70% from the free throw line this year. That’s an 11% and 12% drop in FG and 3PT from his freshman campaign. Theoretically, Collins should be getting better looks from the field because the team around him is so much better than last year’s team. For some reason or another, those open shots aren’t going in, yet.
Collins did so much offensively for the Bulls last season, especially late in the year when he rattled off double figures in nine of his last ten games, scoring at least 15 points in six of them, but he’s taken a backseat to guard LaQuincy Rideau and forward Alexis Yetna for the majority of the season.
And yet, he still leads the team in scoring this year averaging 14.3 points per game thanks in large part to his innate skill of getting to the free-throw line. Collins has attempted 42 more free throws than the next person on the roster and nearly 60 more than the guy in third place. Free throws have been a problem for the Bulls all season, shooting a combined 63% for the year, and as of recently free throws aren’t a problem for him anymore. Collins is shooting 76% from the stripe in conference play.
It’s Not Just the Shooting, Either
Collins has turned the ball over a lot this year. 65 turnovers in 20 games. He coughed it up 70 times in 27 games last year. Only LaQuincy Rideau (69) has more, but he also has the ball more and has dished out 115 assists to help mitigate those turnovers.
In Collins’ best shooting night versus Houston on the 19th, he scored 23 points, was efficient from the floor, and went to the free-throw line 14 times, making ten of them. But, he had eight turnovers, and few were ‘what are you doing there?’ kinds of turnovers. Then on the flip side, he’s turned it over three times in the last two games, but is 3-of-17 (17%) from the field, including 1-of-9 against an awful East Carolina team.
It’s a bit of an either-or situation for Collins this year. Either he shoots well in first half, but not the second half or he turns it over too many times to negate a solid scoring output. Eight of the final ten regular season games coming against teams with winning records, head coach Brian Gregory needs one of his best perimeter threats to find his shooting stroke and take better care of the ball or this surprisingly great season could end with a hefty thud.
Good Stats, Bad Fit?
The Ringer’s Bill Simmons always warns readers/podcast listeners about the “Good Stats, Bad Team” guy that always crops up in basketball. I mean, someone has to score, even on bad teams, but when they’re surrounded by better players, their stats don’t translate. (Think 2011-2012 Andrea Bargnani. Nearly 20 PPG, and 5.5 rebounds per game for a terrible Toronto Raptors team.)
I’m not sure DC is on that trajectory, but it is worth mentioning. The more likely answer is: He’s just not a good fit in this offense...yet. Collins was used to playing ISO ball a lot last year and anyone who’s played basketball will tell you it’s very hard adjusting to not being the creator on offense after being just that for nearly an entire year.
“Yeah, a little bit. Last year, a lot of times, we just gave him the ball and said ‘Go’,” Gregory said recently when asked about Collins having to adjust to a new role in the offense. “He was able to play through mistakes a little bit last year. We have better players around him. We have better players in the post and sometimes the lane isn’t quite as open. Last year we played with [Payton] Banks at the four a lot so we were more spread and stretched.”
Collins loves to drive into the paint, create contact, and shoot within five-to-seven feet from the basket. With last year’s team lacking any decent post players, the lane was more open for him to drive-and-kick or take it to the rim, but with center Michael Durr and forwards Alexis Yetna and Mayan Kiir taking up space inside, Collins has had difficulty finding the necessary space to get his shot off. Too many times, he (along with his teammates) will drive wildly into the paint and right into a charge call, or turn the ball over as they try to bail themselves out of the bad situation.
Defensively, He’s Done Well
Collins has improved drastically on the defensive end of the floor in his sophomore year. If it wasn’t for Rideau’s lighting quick hands, we’d be talking about how Collins has a great shot of breaking Leon Smith’s single-season steals record of 68. Gregory praised DC’s defensive effort after the Wichita State game when he held Samajae Haynes-Jones to eight points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Credit Collins for not packing it in on the defensive end with all of his struggles on offense. Many players have succumbed to that fate. It shows he cares and wants to win by any means necessary.
The good thing is this is all fixable for Collins. I don’t think I’m saying anything Gregory and Collins haven’t discussed. The question is: Will his slump end in time for the Bulls to finish the season strong? Yetna and Rideau need him to step up over the last ten games to help push the Bulls to a possible NIT or CBI bid. This team is succeeding with one of their best players slumping, just imagine what they could be like when he figures it out.
USF will face Memphis on Saturday at noon inside the Yuengling Center. Be there.