Yes, finally, here's your basketball fix ...
To your credit, you guys have been asking for basketball updates since before the football team dropped two straight, so finally, I can hook you up with some hoop insights as the Stan Heath era opens tonight with a Halloween exhibition against Saint Leo.
First, I've gotten a tentative starting lineup for the Bulls tonight, though Heath was quick to point out Monday that this starting five isn't necessarily his best five or next week's starting five. We knew USF would have center Kentrell Gransberry at center and Chris Howard at point guard. The other three? Freshman Orane Chin gets the nod ahead of junior B.J. Ajayi at power forward, with junior Jesus Verdejo and freshman Dominique Jones starting at shooting guard and small forward. Or small forward and shooting guard. The two spots are really interchangeable, so take your pick.
Again, sophomore Solomon Bozeman, who can play both guard spots, might end up with more minutes tonight than Verdejo or Jones; Ajayi could log more minutes than Chin because he's also a backup center to Gransberry. Sophomore Amu Saaka, who has a minor wrist injury, can contribute at both forward positions, and USF fans will get their first look at redshirt freshman Dante Curry in that 2/3 position. Power forward Aris Williams, recovering from knee surgery that sidelined him much of last season, has practiced with full contact, but I'm not sure how much you'll see of him tonight. Remember, too, that Gransberry has been suspended from the opener against Cleveland State next weekend, so the Bulls will have to go with Ajayi and 6-foot-11 walk-on Mohamed Esseghir inside for that one game. And don't forget that FSU transfer Aaron Holmes will join the fray in mid-December when he's eligible.
I'm always interested in the numbers that mean the most to a coach -- Heath said he tends to look at differentials more than totals, which is to say it's okay if his team has 17 turnovers if it's forcing 25; they can have only 35 rebounds if the opponent has 25. So he said he'll go into any given game wanting five fewer turnovers than his opponent, and six more rebounds.
Free throws? Heath wants 75 percent from his team. I asked him if he knew what last year's number was, and he flatly said "I don't know. I wasn't here." That number was 66.2 percent last year; only one returning player (Bozeman, at 88 percent) hit 75 percent or better. The other four regulars who are back? Howard hit 60.5 percent, Verdejo 58.3, Saaka 57.6 and Gransberry 55.7, so there's work to do there.
"Seventy-two is a percentage I'd like," Heath said a bit more realistically a moment later, saying his Arkansas team was at 70 or 69 last year. Sure enough, Arkansas was at 70.3 last season, though it may take time for him to get the Bulls there. His first Arkansas team in 2002-03 shot 60.9 percent at the line, jumping to 67.9 in his second year, then 66.3 the next year, then 69.2 before hitting 70.3 last year. Only 20 teams in Division I basketball hit 75 percent last season, and just two in the Big East: Villanova, which led the nation at 78.1 percent, and Seton Hall.
Heath wants to see consistency right now, especially from the two freshmen he's starting tonight. "One minute, they can pressure the hell out of the ball, and the next minute, you don't even know they're there," Heath said. "You want to get where the abilities they have, they can sustain the same abilities whether they get fatigued mentally or not."
-- More basketball: Card Chronicle, a Louisville blog, lists USF as having three of the Big East's top 10 transfers this season. Never mind that No. 10, Montana Heirman, is a walk-on who was at USF last season and isn't even on the team right now. Power forward/backup center B.J. Ajayi is No. 9, and brief-FSU guard Aaron Holmes, eligible in December, is No. 3. What, no love for Mo Esseghir?
-- I want to hear your basketball questions and thoughts, especially those of you who can make the exhibition tonight: What do you like? What don't you like? Which of the new players impresses you most? What changes do you see in familiar players like Howard and Gransberry? And those of you posting before the game, I want your best guess on tonight's attendance, remembering that lots of parents will be trick-or-treating ...