Pac-12 Team Previews: USC TrojansPosted by AMurawa on October 24th, 2012
Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the USC Trojans.
Strengths: Fresh blood. You know the old legend about Keith Richards getting a complete change of blood in order to beat a heroin addiction prior to the Rolling Stones 1973 European tour? Well, if you’ll indulge a tortured analogy for a second: If Keith Richards is the USC basketball team, and his heroin addiction is SC’s 1-17 finish in a historically bad Pac-12, that blood transfusion is USC’s almost completely remade roster. With transfers, freshmen and players returning from seasons lost to injury, head coach Kevin O’Neill will likely only run a player or two out there who was around and active at the end of 2011-12. Instead Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell, Eric Wise, DeWayne Dedmon, Aaron Fuller, Ari Stewart, Renaldo Woolridge and others will give the Trojans a chance to start anew, and with certainly a larger collection of offensive talent than has ever been assembled in the O’Neill era in Los Angeles. To reference the apocryphal story even further, it should be noted that even if Richards did undergo such a transfusion, it wasn’t his last run-in with addiction. But, nevertheless, that ’73 Stones tour was an undeniable success. And this Trojan team is capable of going from one with no expectations a year ago to one who could get some serious satisfaction this season, so long as that relapse can be withheld until after the tour.
Weaknesses: While the Trojans have been strong defensively in each of O’Neill’s three years as head coach, they’ve been a plodding mess on offense, ranking no better than #93 in the nation in offensive efficiency (as always, per KenPom.com) before dipping to a putrid #326 last year. While he’s got tons of new pieces that could fit perfectly into his team’s jigsaw puzzle, KO’s got to prove that he can get it done with plenty of guys on this squad who have a history of bombing their way to unacceptably low field goal percentages (Fontan’s never even approached a 50% eFG rate, while Terrell, Stewart, Wise and Woolridge all had similar struggles at their previous stops). A newer concern for O’Neill is that, with the departure of last year’s point guard Maurice Jones, there is no margin for error at the point guard position for Fontan. If, god forbid, his surgically repaired knee causes him to miss any time again, the Trojans could be playing with fire.
Non-conference tests: Sweet Virginia, is that a schedule or what? When it comes to non-conference scheduling, O’Neill is the salt of the earth; never let it be said that he dodges anyone. He’s the head coaching equivalent of a street-fighting man.While he’s got a couple cupcakes mixed in among his non-conference slate (Coppin State to open and bones thrown to local teams UC Riverside and UC Irvine), the rest of the schedule is brutal. How about Long Beach State prior to the Trojans’ trip to Maui, where they’ll face Illinois in an all-important opener? A win there likely gets them a shot a Texas in the semifinal (while a loss dooms them to the loser’s bracket and a second round game against Chaminade) with somebody like North Carolina, Butler or Marquette possibly waiting on the day before Thanksgiving. Once they’re back on the mainland, they get right back to work with San Diego State, then after a week’s rest a two-game road trip to Nebraska and New Mexico with visits from Minnesota and Dayton interspersed with a visit to Georgia. If the Trojans aren’t too torn and frayed at the end of that opening couple of months, fans of the program will be very happy indeed. And a solid showing over the course of that stretch could hold a lot of sway with the selection committee come early March.
Toughest Conference Stretch: I’m going to call the Trojans stretch right out of the chute their toughest. On the heels of that ridiculous non-conference slate, they open up by welcoming Stanford and California to the Galen Center. While neither of those teams are favorites to win the Pac-12, they’ll certainly present a serious challenge. Week two of conference play sees a trip to the Rockies, with Colorado on a Thursday night followed by Utah on Saturday. If SC is what we think SC is going to be this year, they’re capable of getting out of that stretch 3-1 or better. Of course, if the tumbling dice fall the wrong way a few times, each one of those games is losable. While SC’s back-to-back trips to Arizona and across town to UCLA in late January may actually may for a tougher one-two punch, this opening quartet may have a bigger impact on their season.
If Everything Goes Right… To begin with, the Trojans get good news from the NCAA in the next couple of weeks when Omar Oraby’s application for a waiver is granted and the 7’2” Rice transfer is eligible immediately. Then, by the time the Trojans roll into Lahaina, Fontan looks better than ever, with the quickness and confidence he’s displayed in the past coupled with a new-found wisdom gained from a year on the sidelines. Dedmon starts to make O’Neill’s prediction of a future lottery pick look wise, with the ability to change shots on the defensive end, grab rebounds above the rim and get out and run like a deer in transition. Fuller remains his steady, dependable, under-appreciated self on his way to again being the most efficient offensive player on the team. The transfers, highlighted by J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise, help make this a surprisingly versatile and explosive offense, while the big guys down low and rock-solid defenders like Byron Wesley keep the Trojans living up to the defensive standard that previous great O’Neill defensive teams have set, keeping opposing offenses under their thumbs. And, by mid-February, the discussion is not so much about if USC makes the NCAA Tournament, but where they will be seeded.
If Nothing Goes Right… Last year’s trips to the dear doctor prove to be no fluke as Trojan players won’t stop breaking down. The adventurous non-conference slate turns into an ordeal early and often as O’Neill’s offense, despite having much more talent, fails to congeal into an effective force. While the team is significantly improved over last season and the defense is able to keep the Trojans into most games right up to the end, the style of play isn’t a whole lot prettier than it has been in the past and excitement at the Galen Center is kept under wraps as the team limps home to a lower division conference finish again.
Projected Starting Lineup
- PG Jio Fontan (Sr, 6’0” 175 lbs, 10.5 PPG, 3.9 APG in 2010-11)
- SG J.T. Terrell (Jr, 6’3” 185 lbs, 11.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG in 2010-11 at Wake Forest )
- SF Eric Wise (Sr, 6’6” 240 lbs, 16.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.6 APG in 2010-11 at UC Irvine)
- PF Aaron Fuller (Sr, 6’6” 235 lbs, 10.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
- C Dewayne Dedmon (Jr, 7’0” 255 lbs, 7.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG)
Fontan, Terrell, Fuller and Dedmon are likely locked into starting spots, with the fifth spot a tossup between Wise, Wesley and Stewart. While this quintet could be SC’s best offensive lineup, if Wise and Terrell are not up to snuff on the defensive end, Wesley could get the nod.
- SG Byron Wesley (Soph, 6’5” 210 lbs, 9.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG)
- SF Ari Stewart (Jr, 6’7” 205 lbs, 8.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG in 2010-11 at Wake Forest)
- C James Blasczyk (Sr, 7’1” 260 lbs, 3.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG)
- SF Renaldo Woolridge (Sr, 6’9” 220 lbs, 4.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG last year at Tennessee)
- PG Brendyn Taylor (Fr, 6’2” 185 lbs)
The big question off the bench is at the point; there is no obvious solution behind Fontan. Perhaps when Fontan is out of the game, the Trojans could rely on Wise to initiate the halfcourt offense while guys like Wesley and Terrell aid in bringing the ball up court. But if O’Neill wants to go the traditional backup point guard route, the only choice would seem to be Taylor, a guy who would ideally get a year in a D-I weight room and a couple hundred jumpers a day before being forced into action. Elsewhere, O’Neill could get additional help up front if Oraby is cleared for immediate action, but you can’t always get what you want, and the odds are probably in favor of him having to sit out a year before he’s eligible.