USC Preview: The Andy Enfield Experiment Continues

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 26th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Los Angeles.

USC Trojans

Two years into the Andy Enfield experiment, the state of the USC basketball program is still in doubt. In season one, the Trojans, despite an 11-21 overall record, showed sporadic reason for hope, earning wins over Xavier and a road win at Dayton in non-conference play. Year two? No such luck. Until the Trojans outscored Arizona State 18-4 in the final nine minutes to win an opening round Pac-12 Tournament game (that, coincidentally, probably spelled the end of Herb Sendek’s employment in Tempe), there was no win against a team ranked inside of the KenPom top 100 on their resume. But with talent already in the program and with Enfield continuing to succeed on the recruiting trail, momentum is headed in the right direction.

Two Years In, Andy Enfield Has Not Had The Success Trojan Fans Had Hoped For

Two Years In, Andy Enfield Has Not Had The Success Trojan Fans Had Hoped For

Strengths. There is some talent here. There are five players on this roster – Katin Reinhardt, Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu – that were considered four-star recruits coming out of high school. Throw in vets Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs along with a handful of other role players, and complaints about talent level on this roster are no longer valid. Now is the time for the Trojans to turn that talent into actual on-court accomplishments.

Weaknesses. That above section is pretty slim. This one is not going to be, as the Trojans still have a lot of work to do. The good news is that, given the relative youth and inexperience of this team, weaknesses can with time turn into strengths. Defensively, USC wasn’t terrible last season, clocking in at 83rd in the nation in defensive efficiency, good for middle of the pack in the conference. But there is room for improvement here, especially on the glass. Last year the Trojans allowed opponents to grab better than 34 percent of their own misses, ranking near the bottom of the country in defensive rebounding. With freshmen like the 6’10” Boatwright and the 6’11” Metu inbound, those numbers should improve. But really, the more pressing concern is on the other end of the court where the Trojans have been mostly awful under Enfield, with offensive efficiency rankings below 200th in the nation in both years. Offensive improvement will need to start with sophomore point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who struggled with recurring shoulder injuries last season before eventually having his season end in mid-February. McLaughlin had surgeries on both shoulders during the offseason and is hopeful his injury problems are now in the past. If so, McLaughlin is a lightning-quick playmaker who, with experience and hopefully improved shooting, can drive this offense. There are plenty of other offensive areas that need improvement (three-point shooting; rebounding; getting to the line; limiting turnovers), but each of those things begins with McLaughlin staying healthy and putting in the work to make the necessary improvements in his game. Certainly other players have plenty of room for improvement too, but McLaughlin is the type of talent who can make things much easier for his teammates.

Jordan McLaughlin Struggled With Shoulder Injuries As A Freshman, But Will Be Vital To USC's Chances (USA Today)

Jordan McLaughlin Struggled With Shoulder Injuries As A Freshman, But Will Be Vital To USC’s Chances (USA Today)

Non-Conference Tests. Even if these Trojans break out this year and put together an upper-division Pac-12 finish, they are going to have a hard time putting together a quality resume given the weakness of their non-conference schedule. Aside from their participation in the AdvoCare Invitational in Florida on Thanksgiving weekend, the only significant non-conference test comes on November 21 when they welcome a non-vintage New Mexico team into the Galen Center. Their big road game is a trip up the 101 to face UC Santa Barbara. As for that holiday tournament? Well, they get a crack at Wichita State to open in Orlando on Thanksgiving morning. A loss there would send them to the consolation bracket, but the field is good enough that the Trojans would still see either Alabama or Xavier in the next game. One thing’s for sure: USC needs to find at least one halfway decent win during that weekend.

Toughest Conference Stretch. It’s all tough when you’ve won a grand total of five conference games in two seasons, but the start here is particularly taxing. The Trojans have been gifted the easiest possible opening weekend road trip when they will be sent to the Washington schools for the New Year. But after that, yikes. Home for the Arizona schools; then across town to face UCLA at Pauley; then a trip back up to the northwest, this time to face the tough one-two punch of the Oregon schools. USC should have a pretty looking record coming into conference play, but even finding a way to win three of those first seven games looks daunting.

Biggest Story. Let’s not kid ourselves: Ever since Enfield waltzed into town trying to bring Dunk City west while simultaneously declaring war on the basketball program across town, he’s been the story. The goal was to create buzz and excitement and make the USC basketball program relevant again. He’s succeeded on one very important front: the recruiting trail. But as far as turning those four-star recruits into notches in the win column? Not so much. While the heat under Enfield’s seat is not yet to the level of NCAA-Tournament-or-bust, significant improvement is required this season. Last year they improved by one conference win over the previous season; a similar blip up to a four-win Pac-12 season will not get it done this time around. If nothing else, the Trojans need to mount an attack on a .500 conference record.

If Everything Goes Right…  McLaughlin stays healthy and looks like the type of difference-maker we expected last year. Reinhardt buys in as a teammate. Stewart looks more like the guy we saw in late February and March last season. Jovanovic takes a step forward to an all-conference type post player. Boatwright steps into a role as a shooter on one end and a solid defensive big on the other. And, what do you know? You look up in mid-February and see the Trojans listed in KenPom’s top 100. An NCAA Tournament bid is probably too optimistic, but at least the dumpster fire is extinguished.

If Nothing Goes Right… McLaughlin as a sophomore is not particularly different from McLaughlin as a freshman. Reinhardt continues to launch ill-advised shots and alienate his teammates. The freshmen play like freshmen and the sophomores also play like freshman. And Enfield simply doesn’t have the coaching acumen to X-and-O his way out of limited player development. Given the pressure that athletic director Pat Haden is already under, maybe his friends should keep him away from the Galen Center on game days if this scenario comes anywhere close to playing out.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Jordan McLaughlin (So, 6’1”, 170 lbs, 12.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 30.1 Assist Rate)
  • SG Katin Reinhardt (Jr, 6’6” 220 lbs, 12.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 38.6 3P%)
  • SF Elijah Stewart (So, 6’5” 180 lbs, 6.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 34.6 3P%)
  • PF Bennie Boatwright (Fr, 6’10” 220 lbs)
  • C Nikola Jovanovic (Jr, 6’11”, 235 lbs, 12.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG)

That’s a good starting five: Jovanovic in the post, surrounded by three capable three-point shooters at the two through four spots and a penetrating, playmaking point guard. This team has no excuse not to improve dramatically on the offensive end.

Key Reserves

  • PG Julian Jacobs (Jr, 6’4” 180 lbs, 8.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG)
  • C Chimezie Metu (Fr, 6’11” 215 lbs)
  • PF Darion Clark (Jr, 6’7” 220 lbs, 5.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG)
  • PF Strahinja Gavrilovic (Sr, 6’9”, 230 lbs, 4.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG in 13.7 MPG)
  • G/F Malik Marquetti (So, 6’6” 195 lbs, 3.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG in 18.8 MPG)

Jacobs is a rock-solid veteran point who, while not particularly adept at creating for himself, is a good option both in place of McLaughlin and on the court at the same time as him. Between Metu, Clark and Gavrilovic, there is quality depth up front, and sophomore Malik Martin (who earned 17.9 minutes per game as a freshman) will be in the mix there as well. And then there’s Marquetti, who as really the only wing after Reinhardt and Stewart, will have a role as well.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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