Pac-12 Team Preview: USC TrojansPosted by AMurawa on October 21st, 2013
Today we begin unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.
Strengths. Energy and experience. New head coach Andy Enfield brings to the program a swagger that has been largely missing from this USC program about as long as guys like Daniel Hackett, Taj Gibson and Demar DeRozan have. He’s trying to carve out an identity for the Trojan basketball program as a fun place to play and a fun team to watch. And while guys like Jio Fontan, Eric Wise, Dewayne Dedmon and Aaron Fuller are now gone from the program, Enfield does have a crew with a decent level of experience. J.T Terrell, the team’s leading returning scorer, newly eligible point guard Pe’Shon Howard, and seven-footers Omar Oraby and D.J. Haley are all seniors – and seniors who have been around the block a time or two. Throw in Byron Wesley in his third season on the USC campus and there’s a quality bunch of players who know their way around major college basketball.
Weaknesses. How well does this roster fit the style? Enfield’s going to have this team running and throwing lobs and shooting threes regardless, but ideally he would have an efficient pass-first point guard who could be the floor general, a role Howard was unable to fill in his previous stop at Maryland. To go alongside that distributing point, Enfield would love to throw in a couple of mobile bigs who love getting up and down the floor, something Haley may be able to do well, but something Oraby certainly is not known for. Running the wings for Enfield’s offense would be a couple of prolific three-point shooters, rather than guys like Terrell and Wesley, a pair who are primarily known, respectively, for their lack of shot selection and defensive intensity. Still, some of the younger guys on this squad, like freshmen wings Roschon Prince and Kahlil Dukes, or European bigs Strahinja Gavrilovic and Nikola Jovanovic, or even young point guard Julian Jacobs or Chass Bryan, could carve out roles that could earn them long-term run under Enfield.
Non-Conference Tests. While the Trojans will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis, with an opening round match-up against Villanova and potential competitors in future rounds such as Kansas, Xavier and Iowa, the point of the non-conference schedule for the Trojans this season is not to rack up resume wins in order to hopefully qualify for the NCAA Tournament; there likely isn’t a Dance invitation in the future for the 2013-14 Trojans. But that doesn’t mean the non-conference slate is an anything-goes affair; wins would very much be appreciated. While home games like Cal State Northridge, Northern Arizona and Cal State Fullerton, to name three, should be penciled in as victories, it is contests like their opening game at Utah State, or their early December visit from Boston College, or even their pre-Christmas road games at Long Beach State and Dayton, that should serve as good barometers for this team. Each of those four games are relatively winnable, and each are definitely loseable. How the Trojans compete against those schools at a somewhat similar level matters far more in the long term than does that trip to the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend.
Toughest Conference Stretch. You know, in any conference, there is nothing that really resembles an “easy” stretch. Even Arizona, a prohibitive favorite in the league this season, could slip up and get bitten by anybody in this conference. Nevertheless, let’s just say that as soon as the new year rolls around, this USC team better be ready, because after starting out with a trip uptown to face UCLA, they get to welcome Arizona and Arizona State into the Galen Center, then they have to head out to the Rockies to face Utah and Colorado. If the Trojans aren’t prepared, one could easily imagine an 0-5 conference start.
If Everything Goes Right… Maryland fans may remember way back when Pe’Shon Howard, in just his second game as a Terrapin, scored 14 points, handed out four assists and hit a game-winner on national television. After that game, people foresaw a bright future for the youngster, but over the course of three seasons in College Park, he averaged 4.7 points per game and never turned into the type of playmaker that Gary Williams once envisioned. Who knows, maybe that system just didn’t work for him, and maybe a change of scenery and a new system will spark the talent to turn him into a solid point guard. Maybe J.T. Terrell continues the type of play he showed under Bob Cantu late last year (he averaged 14.3 PPG after Kevin O’Neill was fired). Maybe Enfield finds a way to make the most out of Omar Oraby’s talents. And maybe those freshmen compete right away. I mean, a .500 conference record, like the Trojans somehow produced last season, is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
If Nothing Goes Right… The senior Pe’Shon Howard is awfully similar to the freshman, sophomore and junior Pe’Shon Howard. Enfield gives Terrell entirely too much rope and he shoots his team out of several close games. Oraby is completely lost in Enfield’s system. And by late January, Enfield is more interested in finding out which of the youngsters he wants to keep around than he is in winning games. While a .500 record isn’t out of the imagination, something like a 3-15 season is not insane either.
Projected Starting Lineup
- PG Pe’Shon Howard (Sr, 6’3” 190 lbs, 3.3 PPG, 3.6 APG, 94.1 ORtg in 2012-13 at Maryland)
- SG J.T. Terrell (Sr, 6’3” 185 lbs, 11.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 47.5 eFG%)
- SF Byron Wesley (Jr, 6’5” 210 lbs, 10.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG)
- PF Roschon Prince (Fr, 6’6” 210 lbs)
- C Omar Oraby (Sr, 7’2” 270 lbs, 6.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.5 BPG in 14.6 MPG)
Howard, Terrell, Wesley and Oraby are likely four of the five. The fifth spot remains up for grabs, with possibly sophomore stretch-four Strahinja “Luis” Gavrilovic the favorite to earn the nod. But lets’ give the nod here to Prince, an undersized combo forward who is ready to compete on the defensive end from day one and is gritty enough to mix it up on the glass with bigger foes. Or, maybe Enfield wants to go big and pairs D.J. Haley alongside Oraby on the frontline. Or maybe he goes small and freshman Julian Jacobs mans the point allowing Pe’Shon Howard to play off the ball more often. Or, perhaps most likely, that fifth starting spot changes over the course of the season.
- PF Strahinja Gavrilovic (Soph, 6’9” 225 lbs, 0.3 PPG, 0.5 RPG)
- C D.J. Haley (Sr, 7’0” 250 lbs, 1.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
- PG Julian Jacobs (Fr, 6’3” 180 lbs)
- PG Chass Bryan (So, 5’9” 165 lbs, 1.8 PPG PPG, 1.3 APG)
- SG Kahlil Dukes (Fr, 5’11” 180 lbs)
The numbers tell a big story. Nobody on this list averaged better than two points, rebounds or assists per game last season in the college ranks. There are a couple guards south of the six-foot barrier and a couple frontcourt guys who, between them, averaged 2.4 rebounds per night. Even the freshmen here barely register on the Richter scale. But, hey, maybe there is a diamond in the rough here. Maybe Gavrilovic is ready to make some waves, maybe Jacobs turns into a team leader right off the bat. Who knows? But to predict that would be odd; this looks like the bench of a team poised to finish quite near the back of a very strong conference.