Sunday, October 26, 2008
2008-09 Opponent Breakdown: University of San Francisco
USF spent lots of time in the national media last season, but not for the right reasons. In perhaps one of the most awkward coaching situations in college basketball history, Jesse Evans took a "leave of absence" during the season and was replaced by Eddie Sutton. Sadly, the lone reason that Sutton was hired was so that he could selfishly pursue his 800th career victory. Even more pathetic was the fact that USF volunteered its program and its fans to this charade. The matter was made worse because Evans revealed that this "leave of absence" was not his choice, and that he was given an ultimatum to be fired or take the "leave of absence" This event was the tip of the iceberg in a season that saw the Dons lose the most games in school history (21). The task of rebuilding this once proud program falls on Rex Walters. Walters was formerly the head coach at Florida Atlantic, where in two seasons he recorded one winning season. The hiring of Walters was curious due to his inexperience and lack of success, but maybe he will be the one to get the program on the right track.
Last Season's Results: As I mentioned earlier, last season will go down as arguably the worst in USF history. The Dons are coming off a season that saw them go 10-21 (5-9) and finish 5th in the WCC. I'm not trying to be unfairly harsh on the Dons, but there are very few highlights from their performance last season. In non-conference play, the Dons were defeated by such perennial powers as Utah Valley, Weber St., UC Irvine, and Long Beach State. The top non-conference victory was a a 93-63 victory over Sacramento St. Once the Dons hit conference play, the results were not much better. Of their five victories in conference, four were over Portland and Pepperdine. It seemed that the coaching change and the unnecessary attention facing the program took its toll on the players, as they struggled throughout the final month of the season.
New Faces: It seems the first task of Rex Walters was to completely revamp the roster. This meant bringing in seven new faces to the team. Of the new faces, the one most likely to contribute this season is Chris O'Brien. The 6'4 SG is a highly skilled offensive player, who will be able to contribute immediately on the offensive end for the Dons. Another guard who will be relied on is Kwame Vaughn. The 6'3 combo guard from Oakland is a very strong catch and shoot weapon. Vaughn is very solid with the ball in his hands, and is capable of making plays for his teammates. The last of the newcomers who will make an impact this year is JC transfer Blake Wallace. Wallace may be familiar to some Gonzaga fans, as the Zags showed interest in Wallace coming out of high school. However, Wallace ended up attending Pepperdine University for one season, but transferred to USF after his freshman year. Wallace is a very good wing, who can score from anywhere on the court. Finishing out the list of newcomers is JC transfer Dontae Bryant, as well as Angelo Caloiaro, Peter Smith, and Rashad Green (transfer from Manhattan).
Players to Watch: The one shining light for the Dons last season was the play of Dior Lowhorn. The Texas Tech transfer was arguably the best player in the WCC last season. Lowhorn averaged 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds in his debut season in the WCC. This included an incredible 26 point performance against Oklahoma, as well as 30 points against Sacramento St. The great season earned Lowhorn a spot on the WCC 1st team and he was honored as as a Mid-Major All-American. Lowhorn is as talented a player as anyone in the conference, and I would be surprised if he didn't average a double-double this season. USF also has leadership at the PG position with the return of Manny Quezada. The senior has been at USF for what seems like forever, but he is coming off a season that saw him average 13.9 points and 4.6 assists. Quezada began the season on fire, highlighted by a 30 point performance against Oregon. However, his lack of effort on the defensive end did not sit well with Eddie Sutton. Once Sutton took over, Quezada lost confidence and playing time. If he can regain his pre-Sutton form, USF would have a dynamic duo with Lowhorn and Quezada. Much will be expected of JC transfer Blake Wallace. Wallace was a 4 star recruit coming out of high school, and ended up at Pepperdine. Wallace had a very good freshman year at Pepperdine, in which he averaged 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds during WCC play. After transferring out of Pepperdine, Wallace spent last year playing at Irvine Valley CC. Wallace will be relied on to be a shooting threat for the Dons, as Lowhorn will spend much of the game double and triple teamed.
TKR's Concern-O-Meter: It's a shame that a player as talented as Lowhorn is stuck in such a crappy situation. USF is years away from being a competitive program in the WCC, and should provide no challenge for Gonzaga or any of the other top WCC teams. The hiring of Rex Walters was stunning because Walters was only able to manage a 15-18 record last year at FAU. I don't think that type of record for a coach is cause to celebrate. With all the new faces in the program, USF will serve as a bottom feeder in the WCC, and should serve as no problem for the Zags.
What We are Watching for: It should be fun to see the talented Lowhorn matchup with Daye and Heytvelt throughout the game. Lowhorn is strong enough and skilled enough to score against any big man in the nation. His desire and work ethic should be applauded, but it will be interesting to see if the length of Daye and Heytvelt can bother his post game. If the Zags can neutralize Lowhorn, it will eliminate the only true scoring threat that the Dons have, and will allow for the Zags to coast to victory.