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.
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.