TAMPA — During a breakout 2011-12 season that included the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament wins, here are four words you didn't hear about USF men's basketball: Stan Heath's uptempo offense.
The Bulls were many things last spring — defensive grinders, for sure — but high-scoring? USF averaged 59 points, lowest in the Big East, but used the stingiest defense in Big East history to collect 22 wins and earn its first NCAA berth in 20 years.
Point guard phenom Anthony Collins is back as a sophomore, but an influx of solid perimeter scorers and a lack of true centers will have Heath more likely to push the ball, utilizing speed and offering a more entertaining brand of basketball.
"We had a nice formula for success last year. Now we have to tweak it," Heath said Tuesday, eager for Monday's exhibition opener against Division II Eckerd. "We don't have a choice. We have to play more of a speed game. That's how our team is built. It's going to be different, but we still have to guard. I think our scores will be up higher."
The combined buzz between the NCAA success and a renovated Sun Dome has helped season-ticket sales: The Sun Dome's lower bowl is sold out, with 2,093 season tickets sold, up 57 percent from this time two years ago, the last season USF played its home games on campus. It's nearly double this time last year, when the Bulls played most home games downtown during the Sun Dome's $35 million makeover.
Heath has been active in trying to fill his new home, hosting an event for football season ticket holders last week and another for area businesses. On Tuesday night, USF's players called ticket holders to thank them.
"The momentum has really helped us in a lot of ways," Heath said. "I'm expecting our students to be a big part of the Sun Dome. If we get our students involved, along with the increased sales, I think we're going to have a nice, exciting Sun Dome to play in."
The Bulls leave the state only once in 12 nonconference games, so a strong start could build momentum and fan interest as USF seeks to validate its 2012 success by staying in the top half of the Big East standings.
HAMMER TIME: Offensive linemen can often live anonymous lives, but not with a name like USF redshirt freshman Thor Jozwiak, who made his first career start at left guard Saturday and helped the Bulls rush for 369 yards in a 37-36 loss.
"My father was a big Thor comic book fan back in the day when they first came out," Jozwiak said. "He always wanted to name his son Thor. My grandmother, his mom, said he couldn't find a woman that would let her son be named Thor. Well he sure did. She was all for it. … Thankfully, I'm kind of a bigger guy."
Jozwiak has impressed coaches both with his strength and his understanding of blocking responsibilities, enough that offensive coordinator Todd Fitch wondered if he will ever leave the starting lineup. He's enjoying the fun that comes with his name, even on Halloween.
"I just go as myself," he explained. "When they ask what you're going as, well, I'm Thor. There's certain things to live up to, but I like it."
THIS AND THAT: USF women's soccer took a big step forward with a penalty-kicks home win Friday against Louisville to advance to this weekend's Big East tournament semifinals at Connecticut. The Bulls (10-5-3) play Georgetown (15-2-2), and goals will be at a premium. The Hoyas allowed a conference-best 11 all season, while USF has given up only 15. … USF men's soccer didn't make the 10-team Big East tournament, but the Bulls' RPI is strong enough they have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. … Volleyball (13-12) is in ninth place in the Big East standings with three matches to play, but only the top eight teams make the league tournament. The Bulls are a half-game back and finish the regular season at home Nov. 11 against last-place Georgetown.