Assessing Andy Enfield’s Accomplishments At USC

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 19th, 2016

Andy Enfield’s first two seasons at USC were…let’s just say underwhelming. An overall record of 23-41 actually looked good next to his conference record of 5-31. What little news Enfield was generating was by way of his mouth, rather than the effectiveness of his team’s play on the court. There was the intended-to-be-off-the-record shot at the cross-town rival (“if you want to play slow, go to UCLA”). Then there was the feud with former USC and current UTEP head coach Tim Floyd, which started over accusations that Enfield tampered with UTEP commit (and current UCLA junior) Isaac Hamilton. That spat continued with Enfield’s shots about Floyd wanting the USC job and suffering through life in El Paso. There were whispers around the Pac-12 grapevine about his inability to coach players up or make in-game adjustments. Despite a roster that was growing in talent, appropriate improvement in the standings hadn’t follow. Even in-house, there were doubts. As late as the Pac-12 Tournament last season, the Trojan program looked to be a complete mess.

The Andy Enfield Era At USC Took Some Time To Get Off The Ground (AP)

The Andy Enfield Era At USC Took Some Time To Get Off The Ground (AP)

Skip ahead through an offseason defined by roster stability and the addition of two highly regarded freshmen bigs. Jump forward to the open of the season where the Trojans won their first four games, all at home, showing off the open-court excitement that the Enfield administration initially promised. Now fast-forward through Thanksgiving weekend, where the excitement of a win over (Fred Van Vleet-less) Wichita State was tempered by ten-point losses to Xavier and Monmouth – teams that we now know are very good. The rest of non-conference play was made to be ignored (six wins over middling, at best, teams). So let’s jump right to what matters: conference play. With five games in the books, the Trojans are atop the conference standings and looking like a legitimate threat to win this thing. Yes, USC and Andy Enfield are Pac-12 title contenders. What the hell happened here?

First, while a lot of things have gone right in Los Angeles, let’s jump right to the head man and give Enfield his due. He’s pieced together a phenomenal roster, in some part due to originally putting together a strong group of assistants, most notably  Tony Bland and Jason Hart. He kept together his first inherited class, which includes Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic. In his first full offseason of recruiting, he made waves by landing Jordan McLaughlin, even in the face of UCLA’s interest, while also grabbing Elijah Stewart and scoring a commitment from UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt. This past offseason, he landed Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu from right in his own back yard. He’s also added – and kept (important in this era of constant transferring) – quality depth. In terms of recruiting and program personnel, Enfield’s report card is nearly flawless (although, they could probably use one more capable guard).

Enfield Has Put Together A Strong Roster (Kelvin Kuo, USA Today)

Enfield Has Put Together A Strong Roster (Kelvin Kuo, USA Today)

But really, the talent level at USC wasn’t ever all that much in doubt. Even during those two seasons of scoreboard failures, Enfield was swinging big and landing the elite recruits he coveted. Areas where Enfield has been doubted is player development and in-game strategy. The first criticism should probably be dismissed, already. Jacobs has been with Enfield for all three seasons in the Galen Center. In his freshman campaign, the athletic guard was a mess, a walking turnover prone to bad shots and passive leadership. Every year since then, his game has improved, with turnovers dropping steadily and basketball IQ measurably improved. He has been taught to play to his strengths while tightening up some of his weaknesses. Jovanovic is the other guy who’s been with Enfield from the get-go, and he’s also a clearly better basketball player in every way now than he was as a freshman, even though he posted a surprisingly good freshman campaign. He’s stronger, more physical, has a better feel around the basket and is no longer the defensive liability he often was in his first two seasons. Also look at the underclassmen: McLaughlin and Stewart have made amazing strides from their freshman campaigns to now. And Reinhardt? After earning a reputation at UNLV as a bomber who never saw a shot he didn’t like (and as a possible clubhouse cancer), he reinforced that perception early and often in his sophomore campaign (following a transfer redshirt year), clashing openly with McLaughlin often and seemingly failing to connect with teammates. This year? The dude still likes to shoot it, but he’s taking (and making) good shots. He’s also been a willing passer and unselfish defender. What’s more, he seems willing and ready to fill whatever role Enfield assigns him if the goal is making the team better. Enfield has clearly gotten through to Reinhardt, transforming him from a Pac-12 villain into one of the league’s better stories. Given that individual case, this roster full of guys who have steadily seen their effectiveness graph straight upwards should be no surprise.

So Enfield can develop talent. The only major criticism left to dismiss now is his perceived mismanagement of the hard-to-measure in-game strategy. There have been some swings and misses – the second-half meltdown at Washington cried out for an adult to step in and take charge. The Xavier game seemed to showcase a team that had no plan out of the gate. But just as players like Reinhardt, Jacobs and McLaughlin have show the ability to make mistakes and learn from them, the coaching staff has shown its own potential for growth. At UCLA just last week, the Trojans took a big lead into half, but saw the home team make adjustments and come back with greater effort in the second half; flashbacks to the Washington debacle were very real and not merely the domain of Bill Walton. But following a USC timeout after the Bruins cut it to 10, it was clear that the Trojans had marching orders to get the ball to guys like Jacobs, McLaughlin and Stewart and attack the paint. On three of the next four possessions, either Jacobs or McLaughlin made a bucket at the rim. The lead jumped back out to 14 and UCLA was again on its heels. That’s just one minor example of in-game adjustments this staff has made, but the overall game-plan the Trojans have employed has also been undeniably successful. After finishing 244th in the nation last season in offensive efficiency, the Trojans are 26th this year, scoring an adjusted 113.2 points per 100 offensive possessions. Much of the difference comes down to the new roster. Boatwright gives them a big man who can stretch the floor and also occasionally drive to the hoop from the perimeter. McLaughlin and Jacobs have made huge strides, as well. But this team’s emphasis on taking care of the ball, getting to the offensive glass, and finding good looks for shooters off penetration by Jacobs and McLaughlin has paid off handsomely. Sure, good players make coaches look good, but the opposite is true here as well. Enfield has done an excellent job of putting his guys in position to make the most of their talents. Oh, and it isn’t all flashy uptempo offense that’s winning games for USC: the Trojans are 30th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. This is a well-balanced team that is being coached up on both ends of the floor.

Here’s the crazy thing: odds are good that if you asked Enfield for an honest answer, he’d admit that this current roster is probably set to peak next year, not this one. That’s right, the Trojans are ahead of schedule. That extra guard the team needs could be on board next season when another local recruit, Jonah Mathews (brother of Cal’s Jordan Mathews), arrives. With no seniors in the rotation and no clear-cut NBA-ready guys, odds are good (but, obviously not 100 percent) that the entire roster will be back next year. As enticing as that thought is, the time is still now for Enfield, the Trojans and their fans. Bumps are going to come (this week’s trip to the Oregon schools figures to be difficult), but with each success and each failure comes additional experience for a young and improving team and its young, evolving coaching staff. It’s not yet February and calling the Trojans a co-Pac-12 favorite is not insane. Hell, KenPom projects USC to go 13-5 in the league and edge out Arizona by a game for that title. And in a season with few established elite teams anywhere, once we get to March, all bets are off. A Pac-12 title, a tournament win in Vegas, a Sweet Sixteen — all of that is in range for USC. Heck, even grander dreams (Final Four…?) than those should be allowed. But even if all those things wind up slipping away, a Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor heading to South Central LA seems like a very real, and deserved, possibility.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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