After a 74-65 win over Eckerd College in an exhibition in which the Bulls never gained true control over the Division II Tritons, the most important lesson from the game was USFs lack of height on the roster.
With a starting lineup which has the tallest player listed at 6-foot-9 and has only one player taller than 7 feet on the roster, the Bulls were unable to establish control of rebounding, and were out-rebounded 42-34.
A season ago, the Bulls averaged positive 3.9 in the rebounding margin and allowed opponents 30.4 rebounds per game.
Against Eckerd, while admittedly experimenting with various lineups in the first true game of the season, USF allowed Eckerd to grab 42 rebounds 6.4 more than its average in 2011 and Eckerd finished with a rebounding margin of positive 8 compared to its 2011 average of 3.2.
While USF was able to win the game despite the mismatch on the glass, the team likely wont be able to enjoy the same athletic advantage against opponents like UCF, Oklahoma State and the teams in the Big East which senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick acknowledged after the game.
Defense and rebounding are what we have to improve on most, he said. We cant let a team like that score that many points on us, especially because of the defensive team that we were last year. We cant go away from defense and rebounding which were big for us last year.
Though the tallest player on the Tritons roster is 6-foot-7, giving the Bulls a rare height advantage, USF was unable to keep them off the boards and allowed 15 offensive rebounds and 19 second chance points after allowing a little more than 10 offensive rebounds per game a season ago.
When the regular season begins, and the level and height of USFs opponents grow, the Bulls will need to find a way to keep the rebounding margin close by taking more efficient shots and decreasing possessions as it did a season ago.
Im disappointed, but its a teaching moment, coach Stan Heath said. There were some long shots and guards were leaking out, and there were other times where we just werent finding our guys. Its an easy fix fundamentally. Its a difficult fix in that we have to get tougher. Our team needs to be as tough as it was last year.
When the Bulls open the regular season against UCF on Saturday, they will look to improve their performance on the boards as they prepare to face what could be a season-long size mismatch.