Lack of experience beginning to show for Bulls

Coach Orlando Antigua inherited only three players with Division I
experience upon taking the job with USF last spring. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

When former USF men’s basketball coach Stan Heath was fired in March of last year, the team’s roster was virtually emptied by all of the players transferring from USF. From the offseason emerged a young team with little experience, but a very high ceiling. 

USF (7-9) has shown signs of improvement, but after letting a first half lead slip away in Tuesday night’s matchup with defending champion UConn, it is apparent that coach Orlando Antigua and his team have a long journey before contention for conference championships is once again a regular occurrence.

Heath’s departure also saw the exit of 4-star center John Egbunu, who transferred to UF, as well as the loss of the departed coach’s son, Josh.

The losses left sophomore Chris Perry, senior Corey Allen Jr. and redshirt junior Anthony Collins as the only starters left from last year’s roster.

As the team’s core, Allen, Collins and Perry have seen success this season, averaging 39.1 points per game — over half of the team’s average point total.

The Bulls have shown resilience throughout the season. In a three-day span, USF battled UAB in an overtime shootout, winning 73-71, then turned around to knock off prominent ACC member N.C. State 68-65.

They may have been able to hang in and win some close games, but consistency has been a problem for Antigua’s squad. Following a 6-1 start, USF dropped seven of its following eight games.

When Antigua joined the Bulls, he added plenty of depth, but little to no experience.

Before the start of this season, the trio of remaining starters was the only group with any Division I experience. 

Antigua is no different. 

Before coming to USF, he had no NCAA head coaching experience, though he worked under one of the best in the business, John Calipari.

Although he gained plenty of knowledge from Calipari, running one’s own program is a much greater challenge.

But time is all they need.

During a five-game winless drought in December, the Bulls lacked one key element of a successful team: cohesiveness. But that comes with playing together for a while.

At times, the team has looked like five different players instead of one unit.

This led to confusion on defensive switches and hindered the offensive flow.

For instance, against UConn, there were at least four occasions on a fast break when Allen or Collins had a player open down the court, but failed to see the easy scoring opportunity. The only time in the game the team tried to push the ball up the court, it was stolen by UConn’s defense.

The Bulls have the talent, but they don’t trust or feel used to one another. More mature teams can know where everyone will be much better than such new squads.

With new players and a fast-paced offense, turnovers are inevitable, but the Bulls are averaging two more turnovers (14.3) per game than assists (12.5).

The one consistent element from last season is the lack of outside shooting.

In 2013, USF made just 25.8 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. Although the Bulls have raised that number, the one percent increase is nothing to write home about.

All of these growing pains are expected from a young team. The talent, coach and scheme are in place now and time will show how good this team can be.

But despite the slow start, it’s not all bad for the Bulls. USF ranks third in the AAC in blocks per game (5.3) as well as shooting percentage (46.2). This is the first time the Bulls have shot over 45 percent since 2001.

The Bulls have proven they can win in close games, but consistency has been an issue for this young team that sits at 7-8 with a 1-2 conference record.

USF will most likely not be a contender for a championship this season, but after a year of getting to know each other and allowing the players to lock down their roles, the Bulls have the talent and the coach to make a strong push in the 2015-16 season.