On Saturday, USC will travel to Allen Fieldhouse for a nationally televised game against a Kansas team that is well, very good. Presently, the Jayhawks remain undefeated, ranked third in the country and are 5th nationally in points per game with 87.3. That alone would indicate that the 6-4 Trojans, which are 190th nationally in points per game, have virtually no chance at leaving Lawrence with a victory in hand.
Whether the forecast is bleak or otherwise optimistic, however, it's a game that could potentially serve as the cornerstone for a tounrament run of some form next Spring. Lose, and the performance isn't particularly noteworthy. In terms of the long-term impact, I'm not sure it has one. A win, though. and the Trojans would have won three consecutive games with wins coming against two top-25 teams with just a couple weeks until conference play begins. It has the potential to give 'SC a rather impressive resume just over a month into the season and catapult a bit of a late-December winning streak much like last year.
Remember, a year ago, a 22-point home win over Tennessee on Dec. 19 resulted in a six-game winning streak that carried into January before self-sanctions were levied by the athletic department. In essence, a win and this season could take on new meaning. A loss and it's business as usual.
More after the jump
But there's a glimmer of hope, as I type these words. Granted, I'm not necessarily predicting Kansas to come out in lackadaisical form and shoot 20 percent from the field, but Kevin O'Neill is getting some needed help in the backcourt - Jio Fontan. In case you've been sleeping, Fontan is a transfer from Fordham who will be eligible to play for the first time all season Saturday. Coincidently, O'Neill hasn't hesitated to shower the New Jersey native with praise over the past few days. Per Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News:
Fortunately for USC guard Jio Fontan, expectations are not too high as he prepares for his first game Saturday against No.3-ranked Kansas.
"He's the best player on our team," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said. "We might be 9-1 if we had him from the start."
That's a bold statement for someone who will play his first basketball game in a year but O'Neill said he saw enough of Fontan since he transferred from Fordham to know what the 6-foot guard can do.
"He's going to start," O'Neill said. "It doesn't matter where he plays. He can be a point guard or a shooting guard."
O'Neill has never been prone to hyperboles. He remains one of the few in collegiate athletics that tells reporters what he thinks. He doesn't often sugarcoat things and he isn't going to pump up Fontan for the sake of it. IMHO, this is telling enough. One of the things that I find impressive about O'Neill is his ability to evaluate talent. He's not the perfect coach by any stretch of the imagination, but if you look at his tenures anywhere, the one common theme is his ability to be a good judge of talent.
Fontan is a good player. No question. Despite barely reach 6'0", he's 175 lbs. and is strong enough to play both guard positions, a real asset considering the strong play of point guard Maurice Jones thus far. RipsIt has more on Fontan.
Scouting Report: Fontan is a natural point guard, but he'll play off the ball when Maurice Jones is on the court. While he is probably USC's best distance shooter, Fontan's strength is his ability to create on the drive for himself and others.
KO Quote: "I'm sure he'll try to do too much, but that guy is the least of my worries," Kevin O'Neill said about his expectations for Fontan's debut.
Much of what happens Saturday, good or bad, will rest upon Fontan's shoulders. Bryce Jones, Marcus Simmons and Alex Stepheson are all nursing injuries. Maurice Jones is still inexperienced. And the last time Nikola Vucevic faced a Big XII team on the road (Nebraska), he finished with 5 points. The circumstances are certainly a little imposing, but the positives from a potential win are plainly evident. It'll be an intriguing matchup nonetheless.