To say things haven't gone exactly how Bill Grier had planned at San Diego would be a major understatement. Since taking the job at USD for the 2008 season, the former Gonzaga assistant coach has had a very rough go. He burst onto the scene in his first season at San Diego with an impressive 22-14 record and a magical run in March. After a run through the West Coast Conference Tournament that included an upset of Gonzaga in the title game, Grier's Toreros upset #4 seed Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost a tight contest to Western Kentucky in the second round. Since his first season, Grier has not had a season over .500. A year ago, however, USD showed signs of life. They mustered a 7-9 conference record, which vastly exceeded expectations following a game fixing scandal that many thought would be a death blow for Grier's career at USD. In 2012, Grier brings forth an experienced roster that looks poised to break through that .500 mark that hasn't been exceeded at San Diego since 2008.
The main reason for excitement in San Diego is something we are very familiar with at Gonzaga; a young and talented backcourt. Just as the Zags did last season, USD featured an all freshmen backcourt that had its fair share of ups and downs but performed at a very high level. The catalyst for the Toreros is Chris Anderson. As a freshman, Anderson was surprisingly efficient. He played in all 31 games and averaged 29 minutes per game. He filled the stat sheet for Bill Grier, averaging 9 points, 5 assists, 3 boards, and two steals per game. He also led San Diego's backcourt in FG%. This season, Anderson will enter the year as one of the top point guards in the conference and, if he can cut down on turning the ball over (3 per game), he can become a household name along the West Coast. The name most fans will remember from USD last year was Johnny Dee. Like Anderson, Dee is entering his second season under Bill Grier and will also be heavily relied on. He led USD in scoring last season with about 14 per game and shot an impressive 42% from beyond the arc. Entering his second season, Dee will be looking to become a more efficient all-around player. He was eighth on his team in FG% and had marginal contributions in other stat categories (2 boards & 1 assist per game).
Not only does San Diego return Anderson and Dee, but they also return the remainder of their starting five from a season ago. Ken Rancifer is the elder statesmen for Bill Grier this season. At small forward, Rancifer started 24 of 31 games last season and was a steady performer. He averaged about 8 points and 4 rebounds per game a year ago. Rancifer will likely be joined once again in the starting lineup by Dennis Kramer and Simi Fajemisin. Other than the Zags, I don't know if there is another team that can match the size the USD will be trotting out. Kramer stands at 6'11'' and is a dangerous inside out threat and Fajemisin is a massive 6'10'', 270 lbs. center that is a space eater. Fajemisin is still extremely raw in every facet of the game and was very unproductive as a starter last season but, he's huge. He needs to improve his rebounding ability as he was only able to pull down 3 per game last year.
There isn't a whole lot of production to replace from last season's team. The only departure was Darian Norris who actually saw his role reduced a year ago as a senior as Grier's newcomers really stepped up. San Diego also has a good amount of depth. The key this season will just be improving the core and becoming more efficient. While he likely won't start, Chris Manresa will once again play a huge role this season. In 2011-12, he averaged 23 minutes per game and scored 9 points and grabbed six boards. He led the team in rebounding, which is a facet that Grier must see improvement if this team is going to get over the hump. USD will also be benefiting from a couple of transfers this season. Most notably, Mike Davis, formerly at Texas Tech joins the fold and will be looked on to replace the production of Darian Norris. A former three-star point guard, Davis didn't see much time in Lubbock but will give Grier the ability to be versatile with his lineup. When the fall semester concludes, Thomas Jacobs will be eligible to play. Jacobs is a 6'6'' forward that was formerly with Cal State Northridge. Grier also welcomes several guys off redshirt and a few incoming freshman that will battle for time.
With a very deep roster heading into 2012-13, it is clear to see why some think this team has the potential to break through and have a solid season. If the backcourt duo of Dee and Anderson can make strides as sophomores, the Toreros could be a team that can wind up in one of the postseason tournaments (likely not the big one, but you get what I'm saying). Along with the backcourt duo, someone will need to stand out in the frontcourt. There is a lot of depth and a lot of size on the roster but someone like a Dennis Kramer or even a guy like John Sinis will need to step up. Like we see with many WCC teams, the Toreros had an admirable 7-9 record but did not get a win over the 'big three' of Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, or BYU. With this roster I would be surprised if the Toreros didn't pull an upset, or come very close, against one of the big three.