The USF men’s basketball team opens its regular season tonight, looking to set the tone and improve on a 7-20 campaign from last season.
The Bulls, who defeated Saint Leo in their only exhibition game Nov. 12, welcome Stephen F. Austin State University to the Sun Dome at 7 p.m.
USF comes in fairly healthcondition. Starting guard James Holmes is nursing a sore shoulder and Terrence Leather missed practice Wednesday after a pulled tooth, but both are expected to play Saturday.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play; we’re anxious to play,” USF coach Robert McCullum said. “I think we’ll go out and play well. We have a chance to be a good team.”
In McCullum’s second season with USF, the coach will try to get things started right and eventually try to do what he did when at the helm of Western Michigan: Turn a loser into a winner.
McCullum went 17-13 in 2001-02 and spent three seasons with the Broncos. Before he came to USF on April 18, 2003, McCullum went a combined 37-24, including an NIT victory and wins over Michigan and Auburn.
McCullum knows his team has to improve at home, where the Bulls went 1-7 in conference last season and 6-9 overall.
“Winning your home games is a prerequisite,” McCullum said. “So Saturday night will be our first opportunity to do that. I’m confident our guys will be ready to play against a good Stephen F. Austin team.”
Of the Southland Conference, Stephen F. Austin went 21-7 last season and is led by junior guard Marcus Clark, who averaged 9.4 points a game in 30 starts.
Saturday’s game kicks off a week in which the Bulls play three games, all at home. Prairie View A&M comes Tuesday and the Bulls welcome Stetson on Friday during the Thanksgiving weekend.
The players know that performing well in non-conference games can build momentum to compete versus their Conference USA opponents.
“It’s going to be real important for us, it’s the kind of game that can set the tone for our season,” senior guard Brian Swift said. “We want to come out this game and get our confidence high. It’s really just a tone-setter for the season, that’s how I look at it.”