Image Credit: USF Athletics
At the start of the season, there were high expectations for the USF men’s basketball team. The Bulls finished the 2018-19 season with a 24-14 record and a CBI tournament championship. Head Coach Brian Gregory became a fan favorite, as the team’s 24 wins was 14 more than the year before. The miracle turnaround Bulls fans had been hoping for had come. Junior Laquincy Rideau, Sophomore David Collins, freshman Alexis Yetna, freshman Micheal Durr, and sophomore Jusin Brown led the charge.
With a core so young, many assumed that the Bulls would continue their upward climb. Many publications predicted that USF would be competing for a tournament bid in 2020. CBS Sports had USF in their “First Four Out” along with several other college basketball sources. Rideau, Collins, and Yetna were named to the preseason AAC All-Conference team. The Bulls seemed poised to have a breakout season and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
Fast forward to January. USF just lost a heart breaker against UCF in the “War on I-4” to fall to 8-10 (1-4 AAC). Postseason basketball looks out of reach for this team from the cellar of the American Conference. They have blown double digit leads in the final 7 minutes on multiple occasions. Shooting is worse than last year, with the team in danger of falling below 40% from the floor. Finally, the team lacks any presence below the rim, ranking 269th in the country in rebounds and 296th in makes inside the arc. So what went wrong? How did USF go from the tournament bubble to 12th in the American Conference in just a few months?
The first and most obvious reason for the Bulls disappointing performance is the injury to Alexis Yetna. The reigning AAC Freshman of the year suffered a knee injury just three days before the season tipped off. Yetna averaged 12.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a game during the ’18-’19 season. During that season USF ranked 6th in the country in rebounds. Yetna led the AAC in offensive and defensive rebounds.
Since Yetna went down with a knee injury, USF has struggled to replace his production. This year, USF ranks 269th in rebounding. The starting forwards average a combined 6.9 rebounds a game. Even if you add Maricevic’s rebounds off the bench, the three forwards are only getting 0.6 more rebounds a game than Yetna did by himself last year. This is a problem for a poor shooting team like USF.
Low Shooting Percentage
To put it bluntly, USF is one of the worst shooting teams in college basketball. In field goal percentage they rank 284th out of 347 Division 1 teams at 41.4%. This is actually something that hasn’t changed much from last year, as USF ranked 252nd in 2018-19. While the Bulls shot at a low percentage, they could get away with it. There’s no Alexis Yetna to bail out bad shots, so when the team shoots under 40%, it only makes the rebounding problem worse.
When a team shoots around the 40% mark for the season, and doesn’t rebound the ball well, it’s a recipe for disaster. Bad shot selection is a big problem this year. These bad misses create what can be considered “shooting turnovers”, where a wasted shot gives the other team a free possession. Many possessions come up empty for the Bulls. Due to bad shooting, USF ranks 328th in points per game, only scoring 70+ points in 3 games. With low shooting percentage, it’s imperative that you don’t let the other team have free possessions.
No Paint Presence
Throughout the season USF, has struggled to establish itself below the rim. This team likes to play outside the arc on offense. There have been many possessions this year where four players set up outside the three point line. This becomes a problem when no one can get open along the perimeter and there is no one to feed the ball to down low. Often offensive possessions will end in either a shot clock violation because there are no open passing lanes, or a desperate low percentage shot. This weakness is especially apparent when Rideau or Collins try to drive to the rim and are met with 3 opposing players camped in the lane, so they’re forced to either throw up a bad shot or try some circus pass back out.
On defense, this is a problem when the opposing team is able to dominate the offensive glass and get second chance opportunities. The Bulls have dropped from 21st in defensive rebounding last year to 327th so far this year. To add to the lack of offensive rebounding, the other team gets more second chance opportunities. This is important when 4 of the last 6 games have been within 5 points, of which USF has lost 3 of 4. In games that have no room for error, the Bulls make a lot of them from below the rim.
The Good News
This season is a disappointing one for sure, but the future is still bright for USF basketball. Last year was only Yetna’s freshman season. He will, therefore, return to the court at some point. A big part of this team’s problem is that Yetna was sidelined just days before the season started. If he didn’t suffer a knee injury in November, the season might look a lot different.
More good news for Bulls fans is that recruiting is still improving in Gregory’s third season. 4-star guard Caleb Murphy is a stud at the high school level, and will hopefully be the scoring answer for USF. The Bulls will also add more big men next year. Iowa State transfer 6-8 forward Luke Anderson, and Oak Hill Academy 6-10 center Emmanuel Okpomo will add size to the Bulls roster. These incoming players seem to be exactly what USF needs.
Additionally, USF will only lose Laquincy Rideau and Antun Maricevic after this year. These recruits will be joining a good core of players with experience under their belts. While this season isn’t going the way Bulls fans hoped it would, the team’s trajectory this year is not a reflection of the overall program. USF Basketball will learn from this year and come back reloaded with a healthy Yetna and do some damage in the American Conference.