University of South Florida men's basketball coach Stan Heath said tonight's non-conference trip to Central Florida will be a good barometer of his team's early season progress.
USF was blasted by UCF 74-56 on Nov. 10 in the opening game of the renovated Sun Dome.
"We obviously laid an egg the first time around with them, but we're a much different team right now,'' Heath said.
USF's lineup has been consistently depleted by injuries. That, more than anything, has been the story of USF's early season.
The Bulls (8-3) are playing better after splitting their first four games. But they might be without sophomore point guard Anthony Collins, who suffered a neck sprain in Saturday's 61-57 win against George Mason. Collins, whose head slammed into the knee of a George Mason player while hustling for a loose ball, was down on the court for 10 minutes before being taken off on a stretcher by paramedics.
Collins, a preseason second-team All-Big East selection, was briefly hospitalized, although MRI and CAT scan tests were negative. Heath termed Collins' status as "day-to-day'' and didn't immediately rule him out for tonight, but it's probable he won't return until Sunday's Big East Conference opener against Syracuse at the Sun Dome.
Heath said he expects junior forward Victor Rudd (concussion), a late departure from Saturday night's game, in the lineup.
Meanwhile, USF will likely be without guard Shaun Noriega (stress fracture, left foot), guard JaVontae Hawkins (back) and forward Kore White (turf toe).
"I remember looking down the bench (against George Mason), seeing Big Jordan (Omogbehin) and Mike (McCloskey, walk-on) and thinking, 'Which way do we go?' '' Heath said. "We've been resilient. We do have a tough team. They are battling.
"We've got to keep the attitude of next man up. We've got guys stepping up.''
Heath will continue to exercise caution with Collins. In the interim, junior Martino Brock will assume much of the ball-handling duties, perhaps getting some relief from sophomore Musa Abdul-Aleem, who was injured when the season began but has slowly mounted contributions since his Dec. 5 debut.
"When A.C. (Collins) went down, your first concern is always the welfare and health of the young man,'' Heath said. "My mindset is more like a parent than a coach at that time. So many of our fans were very concerned about him. Everybody knows he's a great player and a great kid.
"We just haven't had our full slate of guys (at any point in the season). We've just got to go with what we have.''