Well like most people this past weekend I was busy spending time with my family and busy traveling so I didn't get to see either of these games, but there are a few nice little insights to be taken from the box Scores. First off, the Coppin State game from all appearances went about as well as could possibly expected. The 31 point victory was keyed by strong team shooting including nearly 50% three point shooting and a staggering 39 to 16 rebounding advantage. So what if they feature only one starter taller than 6'5"? A win is a win, and although it certainly doesn't mean USC is a good team, it does mean that they aren't an absolutely horrible team at the very least.
The Nebraska game is another story though, and although it was nice to see that the Trojans were competitive with a 51-48 loss, the box score shows a lot of missed opportunity. The veterans (ie players who saw significant minutes at the end of last season) Dwight Lewis, Marcus Simmons, and Nikola Vucevic were a combined 3 for 22 from the field. That is almost unspeakably awful, I mean if those three would have hit on just 25% of their shots with all else being equal they would have won the game. On the flip side, Marcus Johnson and Alex Stepheson both shot 50% or higher on their way to 10 and 13 points respectively, but combined for an absolutely miserable 6 of 15 free throw shooting. If the Trojans would have had had just one player hit their shots and make their free throws then the game would have been a W by the looks of things. Although, for whatever its worth, the Trojans as a team played like garbage and gave the ball away like nobody's business (see 17 turnovers) and still almost won.
The biggest positive from the weekend though has to be the play of Donte Smith. Against Coppin State Donte hit 3 three pointers on 5 attempts to go with with a pair of assists and three steals against one turnover. He was not so hot against Nebraska though, giving up 4 TOs and not a single assist or steal, but he was 4 of 4 on shooting including a couple of threes. I think its becoming clear that Donte could become a valuable spot up shooter, but is unlikely to develop into a big time distributor or disruptor. Thats OK though, if he can bring the ball up court and hit his open shots on a consistent basis then the team may very well have a serviceable PG.
Its also worthwhile to point out that for the weekend Johnson and Stepheson combined for 50 points on 16 of 27 shooting along with grabbing a total of 29 rebounds. Not too shabby at all, and I think it is reasonable to expect Stepheson's numbers to continue to improve as he gets his conditioning back and sees more playing time. Its early, but add him to Vucevic and Washington (well, once the Spring rolls around) and SC has the best front court in the Pac 10.
Next up for the Trojans is a top 5 ranked and very talent heavy Texas team. I hate to wish for a moral victory, but if O'Neill can just find a way to keep it close then I think it could do wonders for the team's perception of themselves and their performance against Georgia Tech and in conference. Really, its not an exaggeration to say that this could be a season defining game for a team that has decent talent but lacking in depth and consistency. USC has had a penchant for hanging with and at times outplaying superior teams in recent history (UT & UNC in 06-07, KU & Memphis in 07-08, and OU & MSU in 08-09) so let's hope the team can shake off the disappointing loss to Nebraska and give it their all on the Road.