The four biggest storylines of the 2023-24 basketball season

Sophomore wing Carla Brito is one of five freshmen expected to take on a larger role this season. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

One of the most anticipated eras for USF basketball is approaching.

The men’s and women’s teams will enter the season with new challenges ahead. 

While women’s basketball will have to fill the void of losing two of their key starters to the WNBA, men’s basketball is preparing to rebuild under a new administration.

Here’s some of USF’s biggest storylines to look forward to in the 2023-24 season.

Women’s basketball

Sophomores to play pivotal role

Four players left the womens’ basketball team last season, but some familiar faces will still be on the court this fall.

Contributing to South Florida’s success last year, five former freshmen will be making a sophomore jump heading into the new season.

Sophomore guard Janette Aarnio, point guard Marina Asensio, wing Carla Brito and forwards Emma Johansson and Daniela Gonzalez all clocked in play-time last year.

These players will have to perform well on the court, and coach Jose Fernandez said they will also have to take the three freshmen who joined this season under their wing. 

“I think it’s going to be a collective [effort],” Fernandez said. ”How we compete in practice and challenge each other every day carries over to how we do in the games.” 

One of the shining sophomores to watch this year is Brito. She was named to the AAC All-Freshman Team, where she ranked fourth for scoring with 8.6 points per game. 

Brito appeared in all 34 games last season. 

Gonzalez is another player to keep an eye on. She falls closely behind Brito in stats. 

Gonzalez ranked fifth on the team in scoring with 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

Fernandez said he wants to see more minutes from Asensio and Johansson. Both players had 31 game appearances last season. 

“[Asensio] improved a lot defensively,” Fernandez said. “One thing that she can do is play faster and knock down shots.” 

These five sophomores will have expectations to meet when they return to the Yuengling Center come Nov. 6.

Postseason redemption

After securing the regular season title, South Florida’s womens’ basketball team was projected to easily win the AAC Tournament as well. 

However, the season took an unexpected turn when USF dropped in its first round on March 7 against Wichita, 65-53.

This was the first quarterfinal elimination USF experienced in its program history. 

What made the loss even more disappointing was that USF won 69-46 against Wichita just three months prior on Jan. 7. 

Every year, the expectations are high for the womens’ basketball team. The Bulls are already slated at No. 1 in the preseason poll for the fourth year in a row.

Related: Women’s basketball places first in preseason poll for fourth consecutive year

Fernandez said that despite the poor performance in Dallas last year, fans should have a high-performance expectancy from the team.

“[During] January and February, we have a target on our back,” said Fernadez.

“I like that people think highly of our program and where our program is at. We should be where we’re at. I should finish in first or second [place] because we are supported and given so much.”

South Florida will have a chance at redemption against some foes from previous years, such as the Shockers on Feb. 13. 

USF looks to preserve its regular season title while clinching its 19th postseason tournament appearance.

Men’s Basketball

Coach Amir Abdur-Rahim’s debut season

USF’s mens’ basketball had an upsetting season last year under former six-season coach Brian Gregory, only winning seven out of its 18 conference games. 

The Bulls sit at a 45-71 overall record in regular season games. 

South Florida dropped to ECU 73-58 in the first round of the AAC Tournament on March 9, marking the end of its season. 

Only 20 days after the defeat, Amir Abdur-Rahim was announced as the program’s new head coach.

He was honored as the 2023 Mid-Major National Coach of the Year one day later.

Hopes are high for the Bulls’ to have a better performance this time around. 

Abdur-Rahim coached at Kennesaw State for four seasons. He took the Owls (26-9, 15-3 ASUN) to their first NCAA DI tournament appearance. He also doubled the team’s win each season since his arrival. 

Eight new staff members are joining Abdur-Rahim’s era with the Bulls — three of which followed him from his tenure at Kennesaw. 

Joi Williams, who was announced as the new chief of staff on May 16, played on the USF women’s basketball team from 1984-88. 

Abdur-Rahim worked under Williams staff in 2003 as a graduate assistant at Murray State. 

“The best hire I made this off season was bringing [Williams] to the fold,” Abdur-Rahim said. “[Williams] was the head coach for the women’s team and I was able to watch her build that program. I sat in at her practices and saw how she cared about her team [and] each individual player.” 

With this new makeover, USF hopes to have a better turnout than last year as it attempts to make its first NCAA appearance since 2012. 

Revamped roster

Three former Owls joined the USF roster this year because of Abdur-Rahim’s turnover of Kennesaw’s program. 

Only three players remain from last year’s roster – senior guard Selton Miguel and junior forwards Corey Walker Jr. and Sam Hines Jr.

The remaining 12 players are beginning their first season with the Bulls. Many received accolades at their previous schools, such as redshirt senior Jose Placer. 

Placer scored over 1,000 career points in three seasons at UNF. He was named to the All-ASUN Third Team and the CSC Academic All-District Team in the 2022-23 season. 

Abdur-Rahim said Placer’s prior experience playing D1 has been a guide for younger players on the team.

“His voice has been the most important thing for our team,” Abdur-Rahim said.

“He’s been a great example for [freshman guard Jayden Reid], who’s learning to talk every day. That’s not something that is demanded in high school.”

South Florida’s opening game will be on Nov. 9 against South Carolina State at the Yuengling Center.