USC Basketball Preview: #120
Overall Rank: #120
Conference Rank: #8 Pacific-10
2008-09: 22-13, 9-9
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Kevin O’Neill (First year at USC, 171-180 overall)
To say USC had a tumultuous offseason would be an understatement. Two players were drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, scandals arose about NCAA violations, Coach Tim Floyd resigned, a few players left the program and the Trojans hired a coach who is quite unpopular in Kevin O’Neill.
Key Losses: F DeMar DeRozan F Taj Gibson, G Daniel Hackett, F Keith Wilkinson
Before Coach Floyd left, USC had one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Now all that is left is 6-7 forward Evan Smith. Smith is a quality player, but he is nothing like what USC has been used to as far as incoming freshmen are concerned. The player who will make a more immediate impact is Mike Gerrity; at least once he is eligible to play in December. Gerrity has jumped around from Pepperdine to Charlotte and now to the Trojans, but he is a player who can handle and shoot the ball and USC could certainly use all the experienced bodies they can find. Alex Stepheson will also be eligible to play this year after transferring from North Carolina.
Some players who spent time down the depth chart are going to have to step up this year and none will be more important than the point guards. Donte Smith averaged less than ten minutes per game and Ryan Wetherell missed last season and only appeared in 15 games during the 2007-2008 campaign. No matter who runs the point, Dwight Lewis will do a majority of the scoring for this team. The 6-5 senior led the squad with 14.4 points per game last year and was second on the team in assists with 2.1 per contest. Ideally he will not have to spend time at the point since he is the only proven outside shooter on the roster. Marcus Simmons is also an intriguing option to play the point. He is not much of a scorer and has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, but the 6-6 junior is a versatile player and should be starting somewhere for USC.
Stepheson should emerge as the frontcourt’s best player. He proved at UNC that he can score, rebound and occasionally even block some shots. Given more playing time, he could be a great player in the Pac-10. The same can be said for Leonard Washington who averaged 6.1 points and 4.2 rebounds a year ago. Washington’s versatility to score with his back to the basket or off the dribble will make him very difficult to stop and he could turn into one of the main scoring threats if he can continue to develop after a successful freshman campaign. The Trojans will certainly miss Taj Gibson and DeMar DeRozan, but with Kasey Cunningham, Nikola Vucevic and Marcus Johnson available as well, the frontcourt has plenty of weapons.
Who to Watch:
Coach O’Neill may not have been a popular choice for the next coach at USC, but for the short term, he is not a bad option. He is a disciplinarian and will always get the most out of his players. He has not been very successful as a collegiate head coach since his days at Marquette and he was out of the college game since 2000 until he backed his way into the Arizona gig last year, where he led the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament, but he definitely does not lack in experience.
The situation, at least as far as the 2009-2010 season is concerned, is not as bad as most make it out to be. USC is not going to drop off the face of the Earth like Indiana did last season. The Hoosiers returned one scholarship player last year and their youth and inexperience were painfully obvious. The Trojans have more weapons to work with and a coach who can get the most out of those weapons.
Projected Post-season Tournament: CBI/CIT
Projected Starting Five:
Donte Smith, Junior, Guard, 2.3 points per game
Dwight Lewis, Senior, Guard, 14.4 points per game
Marcus Simmons, Junior, Guard, 1.9 points per game
Leonard Washington, Sophomore, Forward, 6.1 points per game
Alex Stepheson, Junior, Forward, DNP last season