Pac-12 Team Previews: USCPosted by AMurawa on October 28th, 2011
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.
Strengths. Defense. In Kevin O’Neill’s first two years at USC, his teams have ranked 2nd and 28th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. While the Trojans will not look like what O’Neill expected them to look like even a few months ago, you can expect them to be similarly stingy on the defensive end. With 7’0” sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon an intimidating shot-blocking presence inside, O’Neill could play 7’1” James Blasczyk alongside him and Iowa transfer Aaron Fuller, an athletic combo forward who is capable of guarding multiple positions, at the three. And freshman wing Byron Wesley could be the Trojans’ defensive specialist for years to come. And while 5’7” point Maurice Jones is capable of being taken advantage of in the halfcourt, he’ll cause his share of problems for opposing ballhandlers in the open floor.
Weaknesses. If defense is the strength, is it too broad to say that offense will be this team’s weakness? Well, it will be. With senior point guard Jio Fontan out for the season with a torn ACL, the Trojans are left with no one who is an obvious choice as a go-to scorer. Jones is lightning quick and a streaky shooter, but no one expects him to carry this offense. Freshman guard Alexis Moore will play alongside Jones, and while he is a natural scorer, he could stand to work on his jumper and his shot selection. And Fuller, although a versatile forward, gets by more on grit and toughness than a refined offensive game. It seems like every offensive possession could be a struggle for the Trojans.
Nonconference Tests. USC plays in the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend for the first big tests of their season, when they face UNLV in the opening round before playing either South Carolina or preseason #1 North Carolina in the second round. It doesn’t get a whole lot easier from there as they travel to Minnesota early in December before hosting New Mexico, Georgia and Kansas at the Galen Center throughout the month.
Toughest Conference Stretch. It’s a brutal end to the season for USC. They host California and Stanford early in February, then play three straight road games against UCLA (although that “road” game is literally just down the road from USC’s campus) and the Arizona schools, before wrapping up the season with the Washington schools visiting Los Angeles.
If Everything Goes Right… Everybody buys in defensively, Dedmon is as good in the middle as O’Neill has made him out to be, multiple Trojans are willing and able to play just about 40 minutes a night and USC is able to get just enough offense to squeak out a bunch of ugly wins. And somehow, you look up in the middle of March and USC is still on television somehow. Sure, maybe it’s the NIT, but that would be an accomplishment for this team.
If Nothing Goes Right… Not only are the Trojans darn near unwatchable, they’re also losing a lot. O’Neill’s defense took a step back last year, and maybe the loss of defensive stalwarts Alex Stepheson and Marcus Simmons is too much to overcome. If the Trojans are ordinary defensively, their record will be decidedly less than ordinary.
Projected Starting Lineup
- PG Maurice Jones (So, 5’7” 155 lbs, 14.5 PPG, 3.5 APG)
- SG Alexis Moore (Fr, 6’2” 180 lbs)
- SF Aaron Fuller (Jr, 6’6” 235 lbs, 9.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG in 2009-10 with Iowa)
- PF Dewayne Dedmon (So, 7’0” 255 lbs, JuCo transfer)
- C James Blasczyk (Sr, 7’1” 260 lbs, 0.4 PPG, 1.5 MPG in 2009-10 with Texas A&M)
This lineup would be real big along the frontline and real small in the backcourt, but the Trojans could use Jones and Moore to pressure the ball and Dedmon and Blasczyk to clog up the middle and hit the glass. They wouldn’t get a whole lot of offense out of the two bigs, but Blasczyk is at least capable of stepping away from the rim on offense, knocking down some perimeter shots and perhaps stretching the defense.
Impact Newcomer. Aaron Fuller – So many choices for impact newcomer (four of those guys above in the starting lineup are new to the team), but Fuller is the best of the bunch. At Iowa he was often asked to play out of position and guard power forwards and even centers. While he held his own capably, he’ll be much better off guarding threes, and on offense, he is powerful enough to scorer over smaller players. If opponents try to check him with a big guy, he can beat him with his face-up game.
- F Garrett Jackson (So, 6’6” 225 lbs, 3.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
- G/F Byron Wesley (Fr, 6’5” 210 lbs)
- G Greg Allen (Jr, 6’3” 180 lbs, JuCo transfer)
- F Evan Smith (So, 6’7” 225 lbs, 1.9 PPG, 1.1 RPG in 2009-10)
As is par for the course for O’Neill teams, there is little to no depth here. Jackson is the only one with much experience (and he may in fact start, likely shifting Blasczyk to the pine), after earning just over ten minutes a game last year (a number that dwindled later in the year), but a natural small forward, he’ll have to grind out minutes at the four. Wesley has the potential to be something special on the wing, while Allen and Smith will likely just be role players, getting minutes here and there when the Trojans go small.