It was a different year but the same story for the USF men’s basketball team during the 2002-03 season.
In coach Seth Greenberg’s seventh season with the Bulls, the team missed the postseason for the fifth time and had its third-worst record.
USF (15-14) was plagued with off-the-court problems and injuries, which helped to keep the Bulls mired in mediocrity.
Greenberg did, however, prove that while his team’s results rarely vary, his coaching style can.
For the first time in his 12 years of coaching, Greenberg’s Bulls played mostly zone defense, using the 3-2 as the zone of choice.
Previously, the Bulls used a mixture of man-to-man defense and a 1-3-1 zone defense.
The 1-3-1 required athletic bodies and long-armed players, such as former stars Altron Jackson and B.B. Waldon.
The 3-2 defense used by the Bulls had guard Reggie Kohn at the top of the formation and wing players Jimmy Baxter and Terrence Leather on either side, along with Yusuf Baker and Will McDonald down low.
The defense didn’t play for steals and fast breaks as much as the 1-3-1 but did allow USF to contain teams by constantly contesting shots.
USF finished the season ranked No. 1 in the conference in field goal percentage defense, holding teams to 39.9 percent, as well as No. 3 in three-point field goal percentage defense (31.5 percent).
The Bulls also kept opponents from scoring by blocking 4.69 shots per game, good for No. 2 in C-USA and recording the second-most steals in the league, taking away 8.76 per contest.
The change in defensive schemes was required, mainly because of the personnel the Bulls had, or the lack thereof.
Before the season even began, the Bulls were forced to play without senior Greg Brittian, who was suspended by the NCAA for violating academic policies, and freshman Sheldon Franklin, who never recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the preseason.
The Bulls started the season dressing 11 players, seven of whom were underclassmen.
Thanks to a four-game home stretch to start the season and a Division II opponent for the opener (Nova Southeastern in a 99-60 USF victory), the Bulls started 4-0, including a 65-60 victory against Nebraska in a nationally televised game.
The Huskers provided the Bulls with their most high profile non-conference victory but proved to be just another mediocre team, finishing at 11-11 overall and 3-13 in the Big 12 Conference.
The Nebraska matchup would also mark the final appearance of freshman Sam Barber, who was out for the rest of the season with an injured foot, bringing the Bulls’ total of available scholarship players down to 10.
From the outset of the season, senior Will McDonald was dubbed USF’s No. 1 go-to guy.
The 6-foot-11 center lived up to those expectations and led the Bulls in scoring, posting 15.9 points per game, good for No. 9 in C-USA.
With McDonald established as a productive scorer for USF, the question was who would step up as the Bulls’ No. 2 guy.
After averaging 4.1 points per game backing up Jackson, C-USA’s all-time leading scorer, during the 2001-02 season, Baxter emerged to score 14.6 points per contest this season.
The 6-foot-5 junior used his world-class athleticism (Baxter is an Olympic high jump hopeful) for his high-lifting jump shots and several crowd-pleasing dunks on the fast break.
Even though Baxter put up career numbers, his biggest highlight of the season might have come off the court.
In mid-December, Baxter was on his way home one night when at 7 p.m. he saw an overturned car in a flooded ditch.
After realizing what happened and assessing the situation, he pulled over, ran back to the car and pulled out a man and his son.
While that moment made him a hero, he would later be reprimanded and suspended due to conduct detrimental to the team.
Baxter’s one-game suspension was put into effect during the Jan. 11 matchup at No. 11 Marquette.
The Bulls not only lost to the Golden Eagles 96-63, but they also lost their top defensive player for the rest of the season.
Sophomore Marlyn Bryant, who averaged 7.1 points per game and 4.9 rebounds, had seven blocks and 23 steals in 13 games.
The contest against Marquette showed USF’s weakness due to lack of personnel when it was forced to finish the game with just five players, after Bryant was injured and McDonald, sophomore Brandon Brigman and freshman Danny Oglesby all fouled out.
After starting C-USA play 0-2, USF got its first league win at home Jan. 14 against Southern Miss 74-65.
The Bulls would build on that and get their biggest win of the season in a 75-74 win at Memphis four days later.
Four players finished the game in double figures, including Baxter, who tallied 21 points in the Bulls’ only road win of the season.
The afterglow of the biggest win in the most memorable moment of the season was short-lived when McDonald was arrested Jan. 24.
McDonald was charged early that Friday morning on accounts of false imprisonment and battery (domestic violence).
McDonald served a one-game suspension for his actions, missing the Jan. 25 date against East Carolina, and played the rest of the season.
After the season, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department filed misdemeanor charges of battery, and an arraignment date is still being set for McDonald to make a plea.
The Bulls put together their final winning streak of the season when they returned home to defeat Charlotte 67-64, TCU 71-67 and Saint Louis 71-64.
The Bulls seemed to have little worries about losing at home compiling a 14-1 record at the Sun Dome.
However, the Bulls had troubles away from Tampa, posting a 1-13 road record.
USF had one final hurrah during the C-USA Tournament, defeating DePaul and dashing the Blue Demons’ hopes of receiving an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Kohn lifted the Bulls to the second round by scoring 23 points, with 18 coming in the first half on six three-pointers. Kohn ended the season as C-USA’s all-time assist leader and the 15th Bull to score 1,000 career points.
In the Bulls’ final game of the season, they would meet Memphis, which gave the Bulls their only road win and lone home loss of the season.
Lack of shooting plagued the Bulls, as they could only muster 35.6 percent field goal shooting, 6.7 percent from three-point range and 50 percent free-throw shooting.
The Bulls were plagued by poor free-throw shooting all season — 64.3 from the line, good for second to last in C-USA.
USF had high moments and low moments throughout the season, but gained its usual result, finishing above .500 but missing out on the postseason tournaments and awards.
Bryan Fazio covers USF men’s basketball and can be reached at email@example.com