#120 USC Trojans: 2010-11 Basketball Preview
Overall Rank: #120
Conference Rank: #7 Pacific 10 Conference
2009-10: 16-14, 8-10
2009-10 postseason: none
Coach: Kevin O’Neill (16-14 at USC, 187-194 overall)
USC did not have much to play for last season since they had a postseason ban, but the Trojans still did surprisingly well in Pac-10 play and finished with an overall winning record. The past needs to be put behind them, yet this was a team that played good defense and should again this season. Finding some offensive playmakers will have to come from the long list of newcomers.
Key Losses: G Mike Gerrity, F Marcus Johnson, G Dwight Lewis, F Leonard Washington
This is a pretty talented class that at least gives the Trojans hope for the future. Point guard Maurice Jones is a speedster who can create plays…something this team desperately lacked a year ago. Shooting guard Bryce Jones is a very talented and athletic wing who can finish with style around the basket. Of all the freshmen, Bryce Jones is the likely candidate to step into a starting role, although everybody will be given a chance. Tyler Sugiyama will add some more depth to the perimeter after redshirting during the 2009-2010 campaign and Jio Fontan will make a big impact once he is eligible in December. During the 2008-2009 campaign Fontan was the Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year while playing at Fordham and the 6-0 point guard could take over this team once he is eligible. Small forward Garrett Jackson and center Curtis Washington will also compete for playing time.
Until the newcomers are ready, Donte Smith will likely handle the point guard duties. The 5-11 senior is one of the more experienced players on the perimeter despite averaging just 16.2 minutes per game last season. He needs to improve his ballhandling skills, but he is also the most proven long range shooter on the team. That may not be saying too much, but if the newcomers are not hitting three-pointers consistently, Smith better be. Marcus Simmons is more known for his defensive skills, but the 6-6 wing will be asked to help do some scoring this season. He may not average ten points per game, but he should be able to improve on his 3.0 points per contest of a year ago and still play stellar defense and hit the glass.
What makes USC a dangerous team is the frontcourt. Nikola Vucevic is coming off of a great season in which he averaged 10.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Vucevic spent his summer playing for the Montenegro national team and is a threat to score inside and out. He is by no means a lights out shooter from long range and he takes too many outside shots, but the threat to score from the perimeter can open up the offense. Vucevic’s defensive skills helped USC lead the league in points allowed, but Alex Stephenson deserves some credit for that as well. Stephenson will spend most of his time in the paint where he plays great defense and does enough scoring. During his first season with the Trojans after transferring from North Carolina, Stephenson averaged an impressive 8.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Who to Watch:
The problem the frontcourt has is depth. Vucevic and Stephenson do a pretty good job of staying out of foul trouble, but they cannot play 35 minutes per game. That means the few frontcourt newcomers will have to play. Jackson is a little undersized to play the power forward spot and it remains to be seen if Washington is ready to do anything more than throw around his 6-9, 225 pound frame and grab some rebounds. Evan Smith is another option. He started out his freshman campaign relatively well, but did not see any game action after December 11th. At 6-7 and 210 pounds, Smith may be forced into some playing time at the power forward position unless Coach O’Neill wants to play small.
USC still has a ways to go before they are a legitimate threat in the Pac-10 again. The good recruiting class helps build for the future, but for now the seniors have to step up their games so the youngsters do not have to get thrown into the fire right away. The Trojans could overachieve again this season and that should be enough to put them into the postseason.
Projected Post-season Tournament: CBI/CIT
Projected Starting Five:
Donte Smith, Senior, Guard, 3.8 ppg
Bryce Jones, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Marcus Simmons, Senior, Guard, 3.0 ppg
Alex Stephenson, Senior, Forward, 8.4 ppg
Nikola Vecevic, Junior, Forward, 10.7 ppg
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