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OPINION: USF men’s basketball finds success through defense

USF ranks No. 12 in steals per game with 9.1. Forcing its opponents to turn the ball over has been part of USF's success this season. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

When coaching basketball, there are two things that can’t be taught: the size of a player and the size of their heart. The USF men’s basketball team has the ability and desire to make the game difficult for the opponent on the defensive end of the court.

Last season the Bulls tallied a 10-22 record, hardly what any coach envisions for his team during any season, including Gregory’s first with the Bulls. Through the growing pains of a difficult first season, the team continues in Gregory’s second year, to keep “chopping the wood.”

Coach Brian Gregory has used words such as “toughness,” “tenacity” and “grit” when speaking about his team. It is those three words, and the meaning behind them, that have propelled the Bulls to a 14-6 record overall and 4-4 in the AAC.

If there is a weakness in the USF men’s basketball team, it is on the offensive end. That is due in part to continuity and inexperience. No player has been with the team for more than 18 months.

What the Bulls lack in experience, they make up for with desire and effort. Statistics are a big deal in athletics. Everything is measured and counted. It’s obsessive.

The effort begins with Laquincy Rideau and David Collins. Combined, the backcourt tandem leads the country in steals by a starting backcourt, averaging a combined 5.68 steals per game. Rideau leads all of college basketball with 3.3 steals per game average.

Defense is played with physicality in the AAC. USF, Temple and Memphis all rank in the top-15 in college basketball in steals per game, with the Bulls ranked 12th in the country, averaging 9.1 steals per outing.

Hustle and desire. Being available and being at the right place at the right time is what gives the Bulls an opportunity to be in contention every game. The Bulls out-rebound their opponent by a seven-rebound margin per contest and are ranked 15th in the country in offensive rebounding, with nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game.

It is with grit, tenacity and the leadership of Gregory that helps the Bulls stymie their opponents, allowing only 65.3 points per game, ranked top-20 in the country. USF stifles and frustrates its opponent on the defensive end of the floor with furious, hawk-like defensive precision.

The Bulls have an opportunity to have their best season in program history. It was 35 years ago that coach Lee Rose led the Bulls to their best record in program history. The 22-10 record, set in the 1982-83 season, is within reach. The Bulls are only eight wins off that pace, and perhaps, USF has an NCAA tournament appearance is in its future.

It will be with players like Rideau, Collins, Michael Durr, Justin Brown and Alexis Yetna as well as the bench production of TJ Lang, Mayan Kiir, Xavier Castaneda and Antun Maricevic, that will take the Bulls where Gregory wants to go.