The season opener isn't for another week, but Stan Heath and the basketball team will get ready as they take on the University of Tampa. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 PM and while the game won't be on TV or the radio, you can catch the game online (and you might as well since the football is an ESPN3 exclusive) at TampaSpartans.tv.
Tampa returns 2 starters from last year's team who went 22-7 and finished 4th in the Sunshine State Conference. The Spartans rand a 4-guard set for most of last year, and return starting guards 6'6 JR Callum Tounsend (8.7 PTS/4.2 REB) and 6'4" SR Ashton Graham (8.4 PTS/3.8 REB/1.3 AST). 6'3" SR Osby Hunter (4.6 PTS/3.9 REB) seems to be a safe bet for the last wing position, but Hunter, Tounsend, and Graham will need to replace Anthony Griffis' 15.8 PTS/5.0 REB a night effort from last year.
Like USF, Tampa will be breaking in a new starter at point guard, but UT will miss All-Region Rashad Calloway's (19.1 PTS/5.7 AST) production at the one guard. There isn't a set replacement for Calloway, but freshmen Jon Riles and Terrell Pritchett will be the two most likely to see the majority of the minutes at the point. It would have been a solid test for Blake Nash and LaVonte Dority if Calloway was still around (Anthony Collins will miss the game due to a hamstring injury), but Riles and Prichett were decent players in high school.
The post is where USF will have its biggest advantage. 6'6" SR Corey Pelot (1.6 PTS/1.5 REB) was an occasional starter last year, but UT will have to have production from newcomers 6'6" SR Brian Wright and 6'8" FR Jason Brown along with reserve 6'8" JR F Ted Amendola (.5 PTS/.8 REB). If Augustus Gilchrist, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, and Ron Anderson, Jr. aren't dominant tonight, I will be very disappointed.
The biggest thing in tonight's game is to not overlook our opponents. We've seen D2 teams beat quality D1 squads time and time against his preseason, and this will be Tampa's Super Bowl, World Cup Final, and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals all rolled into one. They get to host a major conference team in their gym for the first time in forever, and their students will be going insane all night. Coach Heath needs to keep the guys focused and not let UT get out to an early lead.
In the end, I think the Bulls will win this one comfortably. If this was last year's team I would be a bit more nervous, but UT just has to replace too many players from last year. USF has a big advantage at the post and the point, and USF will win this going away. Bulls win by 20.