Is this the year USF becomes a relevant part of the Big East? The question has been asked before, but in four seasons, the Bulls' significance has been limited to a few impressive upsets, scattered among an 11-57 conference record. There has been slow if steady progress, from 1-15 the first season to 3-13, then 3-15 in Stan Heath's first season, then 4-14 last year. With junior G Dominique Jones leading a returning cast and junior C Jarrid Famous the biggest of six key newcomers, Heath is optimistic this is the year his team can take a major leap, especially in what should be a down year for the Big East. "We want to be the team that puts ourselves in the top part of the Big East's regular-season standings," Heath said. "We also have postseason aspirations. We have several new players and we are young, but we feel like we have the ingredients to take a big step forward."
A closer look …
STARTING FAMOUSLY: Famous, a 6-foot-11, 235-pound junior from Westchester (N.Y.) Community College, showed promise and versatility in his USF debut, piling up 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists — with zero turnovers — in a preseason game against Florida Southern.
Famous ran the floor with ease, getting out in front of PG Chris Howard for a crowd-pleasing alley-oop. He showed a presence defensively, with two blocks in the first three minutes.
"I've been pleased with him in practice, but I saw a lot more of him in the game," Heath said. " … He made some great passes, finding guys in double teams, and for the most part, he gave us a presence inside that we really haven't had."
SECOND CHANCE: Heath let senior G Mike Mercer, who had been dismissed in January after his second arrest in four months, return to the team. Mercer, whose season ended with a torn ACL in December, graduated and fulfilled the requirements of a pre-trial intervention program. Mercer scored 17 against Florida Southern, showing few residual effects of his second major knee injury as he showed the same speed and skills in transition.
HERE COMES THE CAVALRY: USF has found recent success with midseason transfers — Kentrell Gransberry, Jesus Verdejo and Gus Gilchrist all joined the Bulls in December after the end of the fall semester. The latest is PG Anthony Crater, a quick, pass-first sophomore who transferred from Ohio State in January and will compete with Howard.
THANKS FOR THE HELP: The Big East didn't do USF any favors to start the conference schedule. The Bulls open at Louisville, then have Notre Dame, at Syracuse and back home for West Virginia — four of the league's top teams in the first two weeks.