Pac-12 Season Preview: USC Trojans

Posted by AMurawa on October 23rd, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with USC.

USC Trojans

Strengths. Let’s get this out of the way immediately: This USC roster is not one that is going to win the Pac-12 or likely to find its way into the NCAA Tournament. And really, that’s no surprise given that this is a squad that won two conference games last season and lost the team’s top four scorers to boot. But this is a program in the middle of a complete rebuild and change of identity. The strength of this version of the Trojans is the fact that said change in identity is well underway. The last time the Trojans were even remotely relevant on a national scale, they were trudging their way through 63 possessions of terrible offense a night. And last year in his first season at Southern California, head coach Andy Enfield was stuck with a mishmash of players who either weren’t good fits for his style of play or weren’t fit to act as veteran leaders on a team in transition. This year, however, there is some reason for excitement. Enfield’s got his point guard in freshman Jordan McLaughlin, an explosive, attacking player most comfortable in the open floor. He’s got UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt ready to serve as a secondary ball-handler and a floor stretcher who will likely lead the team in scoring. He’s got a couple of Serbian big guys (Nikola Jovanovic and Strahinja Gavrilovic) with pick-and-pop skills. And he’s got intriguing athletic depth. There’s still a ways to go here, but Enfield is starting to round his roster into shape.

Andy Enfield's Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Andy Enfield’s Roster At USC is Starting To Take Shape

Weaknesses. Of course, coupled with that rebuild is the fact that right now there is an awful lot of inexperience on this team. There are only four players — Reinhardt, Jovanovic, sophomore Julian Jacobs and Charlotte-transfer Darion Clark —who have averaged as much as 15 minutes per game at the Division I level – and each of those players has only done it once. This team is going to have to learn on the fly; but then again, “on the fly” says a lot about how Enfield will want his team to play.

Non-conference Tests. After a couple home warm-up games against Portland State and Tennessee Tech, we’ll get a good glimpse of USC against legitimate competition in the second week of the season, where they’ll open with Akron in the Charleston Classic, then face either Miami or Drexel on day two, and then a beatable opponent in their final game. Honestly, USC has as much of a chance to win that tournament as anybody else invited. Their biggest test during the rest of non-conference play will likely come when the Trojans travel to New Mexico on the final day of November, but even that is a winnable game against a team that lost most of last year’s top contributors. Later on, there’s a trip to Boston College just before Christmas. But, really, USC plays 12 very winnable games prior to conference play. Anything less than a 9-3 record will be disappointing, even for a young team.

Toughest Conference Stretch. Let’s just stretch the bounds of credulity for a second and say the Trojans get out of conference play at something like 10-2, with losses in Charleston and at New Mexico. They’re feeling good about themselves, ready to take on the world. And then the calendar flips, conference play starts, and it is a trip to Utah and a trip to Colorado that gets them started on their merry way. Yikes. Hello, 0-2 start to conference play. Follow that up with visits in short order from California, Stanford and UCLA. Double yikes. This thing could get away from Enfield really quick.

If Everything Goes Right…  McLaughlin and Reinhardt come out of the chute as a dynamic duo from day one. The point guard’s ability to get to the tin opens up Reinhardt to light it up from outside, and vice versa. And – and this is important for a pair of guys with a tendency to fall in love with their own shots – they are both cognizant of making sure to get their teammates involved. That helps others like Jovanovic and Gavrilovic to take the next step in their development and keeps them interested on both ends of the floor. If that happens, especially in that inviting non-conference slate, this team could be brimming with confidence by the new year and we could see a Trojans team capable of flirting with a .500 mark in conference play.

McLaughlin's Adjustment to the College Game Could Make or Break Enfield's Year Two at USC

McLaughlin’s Adjustment to the College Game Could Make or Break Enfield’s Year Two at USC

If Nothing Goes Right… Last time we saw Katin Reinhardt, he and Bryce Dejean-Jones were locked in a season-long battle to see which of the duo could launch more ill-advised shots while the future number one pick in the NBA Draft (Anthony Bennett) looked on. Now he’ll be paired in the backcourt with McLaughlin, a player who likes to get up shots early and often as well. While that tandem has the potential to be special, it could also just as easily turn into a collection of wild runners, fall-away three-pointers and inefficient possessions. And while there are winnable games on the non-conference slate, there are plenty in which the Trojans will need to be smart in order to come out on top. If the early results are not good, that rugged start to conference play could do them in. A 2-16 record like last season is probably not in the cards (they do get two cracks at Oregon State, after all), but 5-13 is not out of the question either. Still, that floor definitely represents significant improvement over last year

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Jordan McLaughlin (Fr, 6’1” 170 lbs)
  • SG Katin Reinhardt (So, 6’6” 205 lbs, 10.1 PPG, 2.5 APG. 2.0 RPG, 45.8 eFG% at UNLV in 2013-14)
  • SF Elijah Stewart (Fr, 6’5” 180 lbs))
  • PF Darion Clark (So, 6’7” 220 lbs, 6.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG in 17.6 MPG for Charlotte in 2013-14)
  • C Nikola Jovanovic (So, 6’11” 230 lbs, 8.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

McLaughlin, Reinhardt and Jovanovic seem pretty clearly locked into the starting lineup. Those other two spots could go a lot of different ways and could change depending on the opponent. But Clark gives this lineup a grittier, meaner, more athletic and more traditional four-man alongside Jovanovic’s pick-and-pop style. Meanwhile, Stewart could fill an important role running the floor on the break and finishing at the rim. The scouting report on Stewart is that he needs a lot of work on his jumper, but with this five, his athleticism could be the perfect fit.

Key Reserves

  • PG Julian Jacobs (So, 6’4” 180 lbs, 6.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.6 APG)
  • PF Strahinja Gavrilovic (Jr, 6’9” 230 lbs, 3.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
  • SG Malik Marquetti (Fr, 6’6” 190 lbs, 5.8 PPG, 44.6 3P%)
  • SG Kahlil Dukes (So, 6’3” 190 lbs, 2.7 PPG, 0.3 APG)
  • C Malik Martin (Fr, 6’11” 220 lbs)

Jacobs is, almost without a doubt, among the best five players on this team. But with the future at the point belonging to McLaughlin, maybe Jacobs’ best spot on this squad is as a burst of energy as a combo-guard coming off the bench. Gavrilovic likewise has a chance to start, but starting him alongside Jovanovic would be redundant. Marquetti and Stewart will battle it out all season long for minutes on the wing, while fellow freshman Martin has a good chance to earn himself a big role on this team.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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