South Florida has always been a football school in its Big East days but this year a freshman point guard and a coach who preached hard-nosed defense made them into a basketball program to be reckoned with.
The coach is Stan Heath, who has quietly built his program after a term as Arkansas head coach, bringing in a lot of junior college players to help and preaching defense, defense, defense.
The Bulls listened and ranked seventh in the country in defense, allowing just 57 points a game.
They won a school record 22 games, went to the third round of the NCAA Tournament and did it without having any player score in double figures.
Perhaps the best definition of what the Bulls were came in the NCAA Tournament victim over Temple when they missed 22 straight field goal attempts yet doggedly hung in there through their defense.
"I can't even explain it," Heath said. "All I know is we kept playing."
The freshman who allowed them to have enough offense was Anthony Collins, a slick point guard with a funky shot, who controlled the pace of the games, hit a number of crucial shots and allowed the Bulls to score just enough points when they needed.
Collins really took control late in the season, averaging almost 15 points a game down the stretch while shooting nearly 58 percent, setting the tone for the late run.
There are three key losses to the defense in Augustus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson Jr. and Hugh Robertson next year but with Collins joined by Jawanza Poland and Arizona State transfer Walter Rudd, who also came on big time late, the future looks solid.
Defense difference in breakthrough season
--The Bulls went from 10 victories in 2010-11 to a program record 22 wins this season and they did it with defense, leading the Big East in defense while allowing only 57 points a game.
--Coach Stan Heath took the Bulls from 10 victories to 22 and for that he was named the Big East Conference Coach of the Year. He developed one of the best defensive teams in the nation and surprised the Big East by making it all the way to NCAA Tournament.
--The Bulls did not have a player who averaged double figures during the season.
FINAL RECORD: 22-14, 12-6, fourth place tie in SEC Big East.
2011-12 SEASON RECAP: The season did not start well for the South Florida Bulls, going 7-8 through the first 15 games. They were without freshman PG Anthony Collins for four of the games and without F Jawanza Poland for 11 of them, so it was mostly a time of survival. By the time the Big East season arrived, however, the Bulls were at full strength. With Collins running the show from the point and a defense that allowed nothing, they won the games they were supposed to win and lost the ones they figured to lose. While they were ranking high in the Big East standings, they seemed to be on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament for they had no quality win. They got that by upsetting Louisville on the road, then went into the Big East Tournament and scored an important victory over Notre Dame. That got them into one of the play-in games in the NCAA and they won that over California, then beat Temple 54-44, before being eliminated by Ohio University. They did almost everything with their defense, ranking seventh in the nation by allowing 56.9 points a game. For his work, Stan Heath was named Big East Coach of the Year and Collins was put on the All-Rookie team.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We only know one way to play, all-out effort, intensity, toughness, all those different phrases and terms you want to use. That's the only way we want the play. When we take the court, we didn't want to just stand there and shoot. It's not to me realistic of what you're going to play. We're smart enough, sometimes we may not tape, we may not have full contact, but we still want to go with pace. That's the kind of mindset I want our players to have all the time." -- Coach Stan Heath on his team's style of play.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: The best news is that the South Florida on-campus arena, the Sun Dome, is undergoing a $35.6 million renovation and is scheduled to reopen next season. That should increase attendance significantly, especially coming off such a successful season. The Bulls also return Anthony Collins, the slick freshman point guard who controlled the pace and kept the turnovers to a minimum. The Bulls also have a scorer back in Jawanza Poland.
THE BAD NEWS: One of the major factors on this year's team was the senior leadership, a group of players in Augustus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson Jr. and Hugh Robertson, who had a lot of themselves invested in the program and accepted the hard-nosed, defensive style of ball that coach Stan Heath installed. It wasn't the kind of thing that was going to win them honors but it was team basketball that won games. A new group of leaders are going to have to develop next year and Heath may have back off the defensive emphasis just a bit next season. The Bulls also may have to find rebounding help with Gilchrist and Anderson gone.
KEY RETURNEES: The two key returnees are PG Anthony Collins, who was the missing ingredient in the team, turning it into a winner with his floor generalship. The other key returnee is Jawanza Poland, a junior college transfer who will be a senior. Poland missed the season's first 11 games when the Bulls struggled, then came on to give them the offensive juice they needed. F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who started only 11 games but who can help with the offense while playing solid defense.
--PG Anthony Collins was named to the Big East's All-Rookie team. The brother of former West Virginia point guard J.D., Collins led all Big East freshmen in assists.
--Senior F Augustus Gilchrist became the 18th Bull in history to surpass 1,000 points and ended his career ranked as the school's top all-time scorer even though he failed to average double figures in his senior season, leading the team with a 9.6 average.
--Senior Hugh Robertson pulled down a career high 21 rebounds against Florida A&M, the seventh top rebounding game in school history.
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