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There’s only one direction for Heath, Bulls

Stan Heath recently put the finishing touches on his best recruiting class on paper since he’s been at USF.

He added size and strength to the Bulls’ frontline in Jarrid Famous, a 6-foot-11 junior
forward who ranked among the national junior college leaders in points (25) and rebounds (14) last year at Westchester Community College in New York.

Heath also added Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-7 forward who can defend and score around the rim. USF needed help in its frontcourt, and it got it.

The Bulls relied heavily on freshman Augustus Gilchrist to carry the load in the frontcourt last year. Gilchrist played well, averaging 10.2 points per game.

However, 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Dominique Jones led the Bulls in rebounds with 5.6 per game. No other player averaged more than five, not even the 6-foot-10 Gilchrist. Sounds pretty soft in the post to me.

Adding some more big bodies was a must for the Bulls, and with Fitzpatrick and Famous, the most talented player in this year’s class, the need has been well met.

Heath also added to the perimeter in guard Shaun Noriega and forwards Mike Burwell and Jordan Dumars, who can all create space with jump shots to take the pressure off Jones. Jones took 461 shots last year – 150 more than anyone else on the team. That kind of shooting disparity usually doesn’t equate to a high percentage of wins.

The Bulls do lose second-leading scorer Jesus Verdejo, but with USF’s bevy of guards, the drop-off in the backcourt should be minimal – if not non-existent. The Bulls are expected to have nine guards on the roster next year. Wow.

The Bulls will also have a decently-sized team. In fact, not a single player on USF’s roster for next year is shorter than 6-foot-1. Most of the guards are in the 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 range, which will help USF avoid mismatch problems against most teams in the Big East.

So, what am I geting at? What is my point through this babble?

Until the team starts winning, I really don’t have one.

That being said, it’s hard to imagine USF not improving its record from last year after a dismal 9-22 season and a 14th place finish in the Big East. Considering the additions Heath made, not to mention the returning starters, depth is something the Bulls will have at every position.

It’s also hard to imagine the Big East being anywhere near as strong as it was last year, when it yielded half the teams in the Elite Eight and Final Four of the NCAA tournament.

Think about this: Connecticut loses its top three scorers from last year in A. J. Price, Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, who accounted for about half of the team’s scoring.

Pittsburgh loses its top three scorers in senior point guard Levance Fields, senior forward Sam Young, who led the Panthers in scoring, and sophomore Dejuan Blair, who declared for June’s NBA draft. Blair was fourth in the NCAA in rebounds per game.

Villanova lost its leading scorer and rebounder in Dante Cunningham, Louisville lost its points leaders Earl Clark and Terrence Williams and Syracuse lost its top two scorers, guards Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf.

Aside from Verdejo, all of USF’s impact players (if you can call them that) return a year older and with one more year of experience.

USF was clearly overmatched in just about every Big East game last year, there was no denying that. The 2008 Big East was acknowledged by some as the best conference in the history of college basketball. There was no shame in struggling with that kind of competition. I hate to say it, but it was expected.

Heath is entering his third year with USF. He went 23-41 in his first two seasons. Attrition and injury hampered the Bulls each year, but good teams find ways to win despite the things that are – to an extent – out of their control.

Until it’s proven on the court, though, I’m not ready to anoint USF as a team that can compete in the Big East.

Many say it usually takes about three or four recruiting classes to evaluate a coach, and Heath just finished up with his third (and most talented) class to date. Plus, the Big East won’t be nearly as good as it was a year ago, and barring any sort of mass exodus USF will have more depth next season than its ever had.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Heath has won at every school he’s coached at, whether Arkansas or Kent State, not to mention winning a national title as an assistant at Michigan State. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can see USF having a very successful season next year.

After all, it is the offseason.There’s nothing wrong with a little wishful thinking, is there?