By Shaun Albin
San Diego Toreros
Last Season: 22-14 (11-3)
Key Losses: None
Head Coach: Bill Grier
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Trumaine Johnson 6-2 So.
SG: Brandon Johnson 6-0 Sr.
SF: De'Jon Jackson 6-1 Jr.
PF: Rob Jones 6-6 So.
C: Gyno Pomare 6-8 Sr.
Key Reserves: Roberto Mafra 6-10 Jr. PF, Chris Lewis 6-7 Jr. SF, Devin Ginty 6-2 So. SG
What goals should a rookie head coach have while walking into a program with only three NCAA tournament appearances in school history? There is no way a team in this situation could be nine points away from a Sweet Sixteen appearance, right? Coach Bill Grier defied the odds last season and with his entire squad back this season, the sky is the limit.
Last season started slow for the Toreros. Despite winning their first two contests, they slid to 2-4 after facing a fierce schedule that included future NCAA tournament participants South Alabama, UNLV and USC along with an NIT bound San Diego State team. Of course, the Toreros would bounce back, gaining a big win against Kentucky.
Despite their inconsistency early on, the Toreros got hot when it mattered most. As the players became more familiar with the system first year head coach Bill Grier was putting in place, the wins began to mount. Led by juniors Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare, USD fought its way to an 11-3 record in West Coast Conference play. That record gave the team the third seed in the WCC tournament. This provided an opportunity for Coach Grier to face the man he worked under for the past eight seasons in the WCC championship game. After being swept by the Bulldogs during the regular season, Pomare capped off a seven point victory with a late jumper. This gave the Toreros an automatic bid in the Big Dance.
From there, the ultimate Cinderella team eliminated UConn on De'Jon Jackson's buzzer beater. That shot gave the San Diego Toreros its first NCAA tournament victory in school history. With the incredible accomplishments from coach Grier's first season behind him, what can be expected of this year's squad?
First and foremost, the Toreros return every player from last year's remarkable squad. Also, with four scholarships available, they have added PG Patrick McCollum and junior college transfers SF Luciano de Souza and PF Roberto Mafra.
One thing the Toreros lacked last season was size. The Toreros were basically running a starting lineup that consisted of three guards and two forwards. This makes the addition of Mafra the most important piece of the recruiting puzzle for this season. This 6-foot-10 Brazil native gives the team a true center and will add versatility to an explosive lineup.
"Roberto Mafra brings size and athleticism," explained Coach Grier. "He is a true shot blocker and presence in the paint that can also run the floor." Grier went on to comment on the options available with Mafra in the lineup. "With Mafra in the lineup we can move Jones to the three and play a big lineup with Pomare at the four."
With the last year's lineup established, expect these new players to infuse the team with energy off the bench. Senior leader Brandon Johnson will likely continue to be used as a SG where he had more of a scoring role. Coach Grier mentioned that sophomore Trumaine Johnson will likely continue to be used as the team's starting point guard.
In the team's second season under Grier, we should expect improvement. Last year's team featured no seniors, while this year the club will return two starters with the senior label. Pomare and Brandon Johnson were clearly the leaders of last season's squad and if the team expects a repeat performance this year, they will need those two at the top of their games.
Unfortunately, the WCC is typically a one or two horse race as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned, despite the fact that three teams reached the Big Dance in 2008. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been dominating this conference for a full decade. If Grier's Toreros want to make another Cinderella run, they will likely need to knock off Goliath. Of course, as they showed last season, only a fool would count out the Toreros.