The USF Dons basketball team and second-year head coach Kyle Smith are looking to build off last year’s season — which saw the Dons finish 20-12 overall (10-8 WCC) — adding five wins onto their 2015-16 overall total. On top of the success, the Dons were able to make this improvement with a very young team; a team that is losing just one graduating senior and bringing back four now-sophomores and five now-juniors.
However, the lone senior that graduated was an important player to the team. Ronnie Boyce averaged a team-high 13.6 points per game last year and was both a leader for the team and a huge spark off the bench throughout the second half of the season. For this year’s campaign, Forward Chase Foster now inherits the title of sole senior on the 2017-18 team, coming off a very strong junior campaign. Last year’s season was a breakout for the 6’5” forward, who averaged 10.4 points — second highest on the team — and pulled down 3.4 rebounds per game, while shooting an efficient 45.6 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep. Foster’s ability to handle and make plays from the wing position was valuable to a team that lacked a true playmaking guard for most of the season, and the Dons will look for him to a be leader and depend on him on both ends this upcoming year.
Along with Foster, two young Dons are looking to build on last year’s strong debut seasons. Sophomore guards Jordan Ratinho and Charles Minlend enjoyed very productive seasons, and were both voted onto the WCC’s 2017 All-Freshman team. Minlend was the third-highest scorer on the team at 10.0 points per game, and was exceptional from 3-point range, especially at the beginning of the season, starting out 30-58 (51.7 percent). Meanwhile Ratinho, who averaged 8.6 points per game last season (fourth on team), showed flashes of brilliance at times, including a career-high 20-point effort against the division champ Gonzaga Bulldogs. He possesses a tight handle and a quick release that allows him to score very efficiently against any type of defender. He also shot 42.6 percent from deep last year, the second highest mark in the WCC. Ratinho and Minlend made 55 and 51 three-pointers last year, respectively, ranking 2nd and 3rd on USF’s all-time freshmen list.
For the better part of the 2016-2017 season, the Dons relied heavily on the three-point shot, hoisting 25.9 of them per game and shooting at a respectable 34.9 percent from distance. However, when relying on long distance shots, there are going to be some nights where the shots aren’t falling like they usually do. When over 44 percent of the team’s shots are three-pointers, it is definitely going to affect the outcome of the game. It will be interesting to see if the Dons will employ a more balanced offense that utilizes junior forward Matt McCarthy and sophomore 7-footer Jimbo Lull on the low block, but with the philosophy of basketball evolving to favor teams that take copious amounts of three-pointers, it would not be surprising to see them continue to fire freely from downtown.
One thing the Dons will have to change this upcoming season is their free throw shooting. The team shot just 63.6 percent from the line last season, a painfully low mark at any level. Foster was the only Don to shoot at least 80 percent (at 80.0 percent exactly), and many others sat below 60 percent. If this year’s team wants to be able to close out games with confidence, some improvement has to be made at the charity stripe.
San Francisco rolls into their out-of-conference play on Nov. 10, a schedule that consists of a whopping nine home games at the War Memorial, and only two games on the road. The preseason will consist of a few tests, including a road trip to Arizona State University to play the Sun Devils on Dec. 2, who finished 7-11 in the very competitive PAC-12 conference last season. They will also make the short trip to Palo Alto to play Stanford on Dec. 17, another tough PAC-12 matchup.
Once league starts, they will immediately face a test in Brigham Young University at home on Jan. 4, which will be a big step to deciding whether USF is ready to make the jump over BYU in the WCC standings. Santa Clara will also visit on Jan. 17, a big matchup considering that Santa Clara ended the Dons’ season in the WCC tournament last season and finished tied for 4th in the WCC standings.
Featured Photo: The men’s basketball team kicks off their season next Friday, Nov. 10, with a home game against Long Beach State.