It has now been 20 seasons since the USC Trojans last finished a season with less than 10 losses, 26 years since they earned at least a piece of the Pac-10 title and 51 whopping years since they won their conference outright (then known as the Athletic Association of Western Universities – or the Big Five). Compared to that history of futility, the recent past in USC basketball has been relatively successful. Between the 2006-07 and the 2010-11 seasons, the Trojans posted a combined 103-66 record, finished tied for third twice and never finished lower than a tie for fifth. And then came last season, when the wheels came off the bus entirely, as the team limped home to a school-worst 6-26 record, helped along by an almost unbelievable stretch of injuries. Of the five players who started in USC’s first exhibition game last summer in Brazil, just one was still active when their season wrapped up, and all told, just six scholarship players remained available.
Teams are going to have injuries from time to time, and head coach Kevin O’Neill understands that, but last year’s streak of bad luck came at a particularly tough time, with the program left in a fragile state by previous head coach Tim Floyd. In June 2009, Floyd resigned abruptly in the wake of NCAA investigations (and eventual penalties) related to illegal benefits for O.J Mayo, just shortly after starters DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett had all decided to leave school early to pursue professional careers. With the change in staff and the NCAA sleuthing around, the Trojans lost all but one player from their 2009 recruiting class, including Derrick Williams, Momo Jones and Renardo Sidney. The Trojans were able to scrape into the NCAA Tournament in 2011 behind a molasses-slow tempo and stingy defense, but the program was still in recovery mode from the Floyd fiasco, lacking the depth to be able to mask the multiple injuries they endured last year.