Overall Rank: #12
Conference Rank: #2 Pac-10
2006-07: 25-12, 11-7, 3rd (t)
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
When most look at USC they see the absence of the team’s top three scorers and the addition of the most hyped recruit of 2007 to take over their production. However, O.J. Mayo will not have to do that much and he and Coach Tim Floyd know it. The Trojans, while still extremely young, have plenty of returning talent to make another run towards the top of the conference.
Nick Young, Lodrick Stewart and Gabe Pruitt formed a dynamic perimeter trio and Mayo, even if he tried, could not replace their combined 43.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 6.9 assists. Kevin Galloway saw some quality minutes while he was around and walk-on Chris Penrose has graduated, limiting the depth of the backcourt. Forward Reed Doucette has left the team to concentrate on academics, but the bigger loss up front is Abdoulaye N’diaye. N’diaye started 14 contests last season, averaging 3.1 points and 2.8 rebounds.
The group of newcomers begin with Mayo, but certainly does not end with Mayo. The 6-5 combo guard has a great looking shot, can finish around the basket and will use his size to his advantage while running the point. Yet, the best asset for Mayo is his reputation as an unselfish player. He will not show up and try and take over the team. He may be the leader on the floor and in the scoring column, but he will create shots for his teammates. Mayo would have been up there with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in the NBA Draft if that were possible, so enjoy the one season of Mayo at the college level before he is gone. Coach Floyd needs some depth on the perimeter and Angelo Johnson, Marcus Simmons and James Dunleavy will fill in nicely. Johnson may find himself starting at the point right away with Mayo on the wing. Johnson has amazing speed and will give the Trojans another playmaker on the floor. Simmons will not hit the outside shot with consistency, but the 6-6 wing will have a lot of exciting finishes around the basket. The big name up front is Davon Jefferson. The 6-8 forward has spent a couple years working on becoming eligible to play, but now that he is, he will likely be starting. Jefferson, who was a very highly touted recruit two years ago, is a versatile athlete who can do plenty of scoring. Seven-footer Mamadou Diarra is full of potential and will see some minutes off the bench this season. His best asset is his ability to step outside and hit the jumper, which will help stretch out the opposing defense. Redshirt freshman Kasey Cunningham has the athleticism to help out on the glass and do some scoring around the basket and will add depth to what is suddenly a deep frontcourt.
Who to Watch:
With Mayo on the floor, USC will not be a frontcourt orientated team, but the most overlooked big man west of the Mississippi will make it seem that way occasionally. Taj Gibson averaged 12.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks as a freshman last season. Gibson will use his length to get on the glass and be a major shot blocking threat on the defensive end. He can score in a variety of ways and expect Gibson to increase his scoring output as a sophomore. RouSean Cromwell and Keith Wilkinson will add some depth off the bench once again. At 6-11 and 6-10, the duo will at least be able to grab some boards and eat up some fouls.
Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis averaged around 20 minutes per game last season as freshmen, but they were still overshadowed by the now departed perimeter group. Hackett, who may miss some time with a broken jaw, is a good ballhandler and will likely be starting as soon as he is healthy. Lewis has the potential to be a great scorer and is already a shutdown defender. Hackett and Lewis will play a much bigger role on the team this year and they have the ability to put up some big numbers. Still, this is a very inexperienced team. The bulk of the minutes will be given to freshmen and sophomores and there is not even a senior on the roster. However, youth is less of a concern. Many of the players are old for their class and they will have to make up for the lack of basketball experience at this level with their life experience. Of course, being able to match any team in the nation with pure talent will certainly help USC win some games. There may be some struggles early while the youngsters adapt to life in Southern California, but by March the Trojans will be ready for a nice run in the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
O.J. Mayo, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Daniel Hackett, Sophomore, Guard, 5.3 points per game
Dwight Lewis, Sophomore, Guard, 5.8 points per game
Davon Jefferson, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Taj Gibson, Sophomore, Forward, 12.2 points per game