USC’s Offensive Explosion: A Sign Of Things to Come?Posted by AMurawa on December 21st, 2011
It’s been a wild couple of games for the USC basketball team. After having established themselves as an excellent defensive squad incapable of scoring through the first ten games of the season, they played against type in consecutive games. First, on Saturday against Georgia, one of the worst shooting teams in the nation, they allowed the Bulldogs to shoot a season-high 61.65 eFG in a come-from-ahead loss for the Trojans. Then, Monday night against TCU, they inexplicably busted out with coherent offense, scoring 83 points with four players scoring in double figures and just four turnovers on the night, all while reverting back to their excellent defensive form. While it is still early in the season, each of these games can easily be taken as little more than blips on the radar, but is it possible that the offensive eruption is a sign of improvement for a young team that is just now getting used to playing with each other?
The Trojans lost senior point guard Jio Fontan to a torn ACL during their team trip to Brazil in August, and as a result head coach Kevin O’Neill had to rejigger his plans for the year. With only two healthy players returning from a team that wasn’t very deep to begin with last year, he knew that there would be plenty of growing pains in the early part of this season. O’Neill also knew that sophomore guard Maurice Jones, the only player who earned more than 11 minutes per game last year, would need to play nearly every minute for the Trojans this year. And so far, both of those expectations have been met, with Jones playing 39.3 minutes per night (or 96.3% of all possible minutes) and with the USC offense struggling to gain any consistency. However, the mere fact that this team is playing so hard and so well defensively is a credit not only to the players, but to this coaching staff.
But, for this team to make any sort of noise in conference play, they’ll need to improve their offensive efficiency (still ranked 228th in the nation, even after Monday’s outburst). And that is something that can happen. Right now, USC is relying on Jones to do just about everything offensively. He is adept at getting into the lane without the need of a screen and finding shots of some sort either for himself or his teammates. The problem is, those aren’t always great shots and at times Jones can dominate the ball without a lot of purpose for large parts of the shot clock before the Trojans are forced to jack up a bad end-of-time attempt. While Jones is to be commended for the leadership he provides for this team, he needs to tighten up his shot selection and trust his teammates, some of whom are coming around offensively.
For instance, freshman guard Alexis Moore, after struggling through 14-of-54 shooting to start the year, has looked good in the last couple of games, hitting seven of his 16 three-point attempts on his way to 30 points. He’s got a decent handle and can even run the point if Jones ever needed a blow for a minute here and there, but he may be the best pure scorer that the Trojans have. They need to use him more. Then there’s Aaron Fuller, in his first season in cardinal and gold after transferring from Iowa. Despite the small sample size, he’s been USC’s most efficient offensive player this season. He is capable of creating his own offense, either through hitting the glass (his 12.8% offensive rebounding percentage is second on the team) or by putting the ball on the floor in short bursts against bigger defenders and getting to the free throw line. He may not be your prototypical power conference PF (he’s just 6’6”), but he makes the most of what he’s got and is a good offensive piece.
Dewayne Dedmon, the Trojans’ sophomore center who famously didn’t begin playing basketball until he was 18, is still very much a work in progress, just as likely to disappear from a game almost entirely as he is to provide any kind of help. He’s had three games in double figures this season, and it is no coincidence that in those games he also made several plays defensively. When Dedmon is into the game mentally, he is capable of being a game-changing presence in the middle on the defensive end, a solid rebounder, and an improving ancillary piece on offense. When he gets rattled or fails to play with energy, he is more of a liability than an asset. O’Neill can live with his offensive inconsistency so long as he plays with intensity and intelligence on the defensive end.
Around that core, there are some decent pieces. Greg Allen is a JuCo transfer regarded as a three-point specialist, although he has yet to hit his stride this season. Byron Wesley is a freshman win with an upperclassman’s body who is already likely the best defender on the USC team. His offensive game trails his defensive development, but he’s got good athleticism and a good basketball IQ and O’Neill is wisely giving him a ton of minutes in the hopes of speeding his improvement. James Blasczyk is a 7’1” big man with limited ability in the post, but he is capable of hitting mid-range jumpers and helping out on the glass, while Garrett Jackson, the only player on this team other than Jones to earn any type of minutes last season, is another solid piece off the bench.
So, was an 83-point explosion against TCU an aberration or a sign of things to come? Likely more of an aberration than anything else, since USC has scored that many points only three times in O’Neill’s two-plus years as head coach (and one of those games was a double-overtime affair). However, there is no reason for this Trojan offense to be as bad as it has been so far. Jones is going to continue to be O’Neill’s primary offensive player the rest of the year, but if he can use just a few less possessions than the 27% he’s using so far and find ways for Moore, Fuller and even Dedmon to contribute just a bit more, there is some upside to the USC offense. And with the Trojans on the wrong side of several close games already (they’re 2-5 in game decided by two possessions or less), just a small uptick in offensive production could turn those losses into wins.