SAN DIEGO — The University of San Diego's 1987-88 college basketball season hasn't even tipped off yet, and already the evaluations are in.
An inexperienced team. Only one returning starter. A rebuilding season.
Isn't there anybody out there who thinks that this team, which makes its debut Friday night in Houston against Rice, can duplicate last season's 24-6 record and West Coast Athletic Conference regular-season championship?
Won't people smile as if they knew it all along if the Toreros kick it into high gear at midseason, win 14 games in a row and advance to the NCAA tournament, as last season's team did?
Probably not. Even Jim Pelton, who is starting at center for the Toreros this season, said earlier this week, "Don't expect last season's team."
Don't worry, Jim. The evaluations are already in. And they seem to have some merit.
Here are some reasons:
--Only 6-foot 1-inch guard Danny Means returns from a starting five that were so accustomed to each other that, at times last season, it seemed as if they could run their half-court offense blindfolded. Scott Thompson, Nils Madden, Mark Manor and Paul Leonard had worked together for two seasons. Further, the group was so effective on defense that it limited opponents to a .401 shooting percentage for the season, which ranked No. 1 in the country.
--The four players who will join Means in the starting lineup all played last season but collectively averaged only 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Marty Munn had a 3.4 scoring average, followed by Craig Cottrell (3.2), Pelton (2.8) and Mike Haupt (0.9).
--Waiting on the bench to supplement the starters is a group of unproven players, including three redshirt freshmen, one junior college transfer and four freshmen.
All of it means that Coach Hank Egan, in his fourth season at USD, has quite a bit of work to do.
"We graduated a lot of people, and that's obviously going to change a lot of things this season," Egan said. "We've got to do a lot of things differently, and we have to do them with a lot of new players."
In other words, USD no longer can count solely on its half-court offense, which during the last two seasons was designed to get the ball inside to either Thompson, a 7-footer who was WCAC player of the year last season, or Madden, a 6-9 forward who used his strength to rank second on the team in scoring with an 11.1 average.
This year, Pelton is the tallest starter at 6-9, and Haupt, who was a backup guard last season, will play "big" forward, although he is 6-5.
"Last year, in our set offense, we would want at least every other pass to go inside," Egan said. "We'll be moving it around the perimeter more this season and won't go inside as much."
One advantage Egan's new team will have over its 1986-87 counterpart is speed. Thompson, Madden and Manor were excellent ball-control players, but they didn't run much.
"It seemed we could use a whip, chain or gun on the kids last year, and they still wouldn't run," Egan said.
In order to take advantage of his quicker, smaller lineup, Egan said he will use a half-court and three-quarter-court trap defense at times this season.
"Our coach feels that it is important for us to put some pressure on the other teams, so we can create some scoring opportunities for ourselves," Munn said. "We're going to have quite a different team than last year. Everybody's going to get a chance to play inside and outside."
One thing that concerns Egan, however, is that very few of his players are experienced when it comes to crunch time. Last season, the seniors played when it counted most.
With that in mind, Egan is counting on Means to be the team leader. The players, in fact, elected him captain, a rare honor at USD for a junior.
"Danny has quite a bit of respect from his teammates," Egan said. "In fact, he had a lot of respect from the seniors last year."
And he proved he could play in crunch time when, against Auburn in the first round of the NCAA tournament, he had his finest game of the season with a team-high 18 points in USD's 62-61 loss.
After Means, USD is counting on the only two seniors on its roster--Munn, a shooting forward who needs to improve his .382 field goal percentage of last season, and Pelton.
"Jim (Pelton) is a senior who has waited patiently a long time for his chance," Egan said. "He has to get it done this season. He's quick and has the ability to score around the basket. He just has to be more consistent."
Whether that happens, will be just one of the questions to be answered during this newest of new seasons.
USD FACTS & FIGURES
Lettermen Returning (6)
No Player Po Hgt Wgt Yr FG% FT% Ast Reb Pts 44 Brian Anderson F 6-7 200 So .667 .000 0.1 1.1 1.5 24 Craig Cottrell G 6-5 185 So .351 .684 0.4 0.9 3.2 20 Mike Haupt F 6-5 215 Jr .445 .445 0.4 1.1 0.9 22 Danny Means G 6-1 175 Jr .408 .849 2.9 2.4 8.0 30 Marty Munn F 6-6 210 Sr .382 .667 0.8 2.2 3.4 50 Jim Pelton C 6-9 230 Sr .546 .643 0.1 1.8 2.8
No Hometown (High School) 44 Sherman Oaks (Notre Dame) 24 Tempe, Ariz. (Marcos de Niza) 20 San Diego (Mira Mesa) 22 Los Angeles (St. John Bosco) 30 Salinas (North Salinas) 50 Palos Verdes (Palos Verdes)
Other Players Returning (3)
No Player Po Hgt Wgt Yr 1985-86 Status 54 Dondi Bell C 6-9 210 Fr Redshirt 32 Bob Coady G 6-4 190 Fr Redshirt 14 Omar Parker F 6-0 170 Fr Redshirt
No Hometown (High School) 54 San Diego (Crawford) 32 Fullerton (Servite) 14 Mercer Island, Wash. (Mercer Island)
No Player Po Hgt Wgt Yr Hometown (High School) 52 Keith Colvin F 6-8 210 Fr Chico (Chico) 12 Efrem Leonard G 6-1 170 Jr La Verne (Damien) 10 Kelvin Means G 6-0 170 Fr Los Angeles (St. John Bosco) 42 John Sayers F 6-7 200 Fr San Jose (Bellarmine Prep) 40 Ran. Thompson G 6-6 170 Fr Chino (Don Lugo)