USC basketball isn't going to win any popularity contests. With Kevin O'Neill as head coach, it's offense is slow, low-scoring and every bit of an eye-sore. Traditionally, the program hasn't exactly produced a plethora of Pac-10 and NCAA champions either, and even more telling of the program's sad history, is the fact that it's coming of a year in which it self-imposed sanctions after the whole O.J. Mayo ordeal.
Producing even more negative headlines heading into the upcoming 2010-2011 campaign is the fact that the Trojans lose their top three wing players from a year ago in Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis, who finished as three of the team's top four leading scorers from last season.
Publications such as Athlon, as a result, have placed 'SC towards the bottom half of the Pac-10 pecking order, picking them 9th citing depth issues complicated by the departure of "The Big Three." After all, they did account for nearly 55% of the team's scoring output, but nonetheless, that doesn't necessarily make them invaluable. Granted, all three were serviceable players, but considering the program's sudden influx of talent, particularly in regards to Fordham transfer Jio Fontan, they're certainly replaceable.
Thus far, Fontan, along with new talented freshman players such as Maurice Jones have impressed a not always optimistic O'Neill, particularily in the team's most recent scrimmage against Air Force.
That freshman point guard Maurice Jones was ready to lead the Trojans, that overall the team is in very good physical shape and that the Trojans are, as a group, unselfish.
The unofficial score of the USC victory was 75-46, and the Trojans got balanced scoring highlighted by a 10-point, 10-assist, five-turnover performance in 38 minutes from Jones.
"He played very well," O'Neill said. "He looked very comfortable. The first four minutes, he was trying too hard to run what we wanted to run instead of just playing, and then when he started just playing, he was very, very good."
O'Neill said three of Jones' five turnovers came in the first three minutes.
"It was cool," Jones said of his first chance to lead the Trojans against an opponent. O'Neill "just told me to do what I've been doing: Get my open shots, be aggressive, and then give the teammates open shots too.
Discounting O'Neill's bunch this year because of the departures of Gerrity, Johnson and Lewis is simply uninformed. All three were key contributors on the 2010 squad that surpassed nearly all expectations, but it'd be strangely naive to say that Fontan, Jones and Bryce Jones (no relation) cannot replace the scoring production set forth by the three graduating seniors. Not that they weren't valuable, but projecting a glim forecast for 2011 because of their departures, is a failure to recognize the talent of the newcomers.
In terms of abilities, O'Neill has commented on multiple occasions that this year's team will be far more talented than the 2010 version. It's quicker, more athletic, and while mistakes are bound to be committed by a young team, it's talent should help to discount the inexperience. If you listen to O'Neill, there's little doubt that this younger group of players can contribute immediately.
In short, don't expect much of a dropoff. Granted, it's still a little premature to start calling upon the Trojans to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament next March, but suggesting that this team will begin a downward spiral because of its losses in the baccourt is equally unjustifiable.
This year's bunch is young and will make its fair share of mistakes, but it has the skill set necessary to embark on a promising 2011 campaign. Subsequently, don't peg this team for a bottom-half finish in the Pac-10 because Dwight Lewis will no longer be suiting up at Galen Center.
There are some reasons to be pessimistic about the upcoming season; the departure of "The Big Three," however, isn't one of them.