28 games into the USC basketball season, the latest reports emerging from Galen Center unsurprisingly suggest that the current Trojans' bunch may be undergoing some sort of burnout effect. With a shortened roster and a general lack of depth, this concept shouldn't come as a big shock to most 'SC fans. From the Los Angeles Times:
USC is said to be running on fumes. The truth is, the Trojans would be lucky to have any fumes left.
With a shallow bench and a roster that includes several players racking up minutes after not playing much last season, it's evident the team is worn to the bone.
Coach Kevin O'Neill said that "tired shouldn't be an excuse," but he also admits that obstacles his players faced this year are a major factor in their current fatigue.
"The adversity and the constant having to overcome adversity takes a toll on guys who haven't had to play major minutes before," O'Neill said.
Senior guard Mike Gerrity had been going with the company line: that every player is tired at this point in the season. But he changed his tune Tuesday and said USC's recent losses against Oregon and Oregon State came from something else.
"We lost focus in both these past couple games," Gerrity said. "We had leads at halftime and we lost sight of what was getting us those leads."
In some ways, fatigue is a reasonable excuse for this team's recent troubles, but in the end, I'm not ready to go ahead and buy it. For one, the Trojans struggles have been on the offensive end - they shoot just 30.2% from beyond the arc and rank among the worst teams in all of Division 1 in terms of points per game. Most scouts will tell you that defense takes far more energy to play than offense so the idea that the team's offensive performance is lagging due to exhaustion is a little tough for me to understand at this point.
Furthermore, the Trojans' effort hasn't entirely been consistent. Why does the fatigue only kick in for games against the conference's bottom feeders - Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State. It looked like the effort was certainly there against Washington in Seattle and Cal at Galen Center. Something doesn't match up exactly.
Surprisingly, O'Neill acknowledged the the team may be wearing down this week and that if may be negatively impacting the team's recent performance. From Scott Wolf's blog:
"Basically we are a little fried as a team," said O'Neill. "I don't know how we will react over these last two games being that we really have nothing to play for like the Pac-10 Tournament of anything like that.''
Yet, even with the season winding down, USC has one final road trip left to Arizona on the horizon, where they will aim to finish the year on a positive note. It's going to be tough for these to get motivated to play in these games, considering that Cal has already won the Pac-10 regular season title and there is no Pac-10 tournament for 'SC. Yet, with three important seniors in Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson, and Dwight Lewis, on the roster, it would be nice to see them play well over the final stretch run.
Additionally, the trip to the Valley of the Sun, will also mark Kevin O'Neill's return to Arizona, where he once coach for the Wildcats for one season back in 2008. Of course, O'Neill has been downplaying its significance:
"To me it's just another game against a quality team. I have great respect for Arizona and their tradition. I loved my time in Tucson, but it's just another game. It's unfortunately our last game of the year, but it's just another outing.''
Nonetheless, this season is just about all wrapped up, and as a result, most of the Trojan faithful is already taking a quick glance at the future. And as it looks now, that future appears to be pretty bright.
That is because, the Trojans recently got its first verbal commitment from the class of 2012 - 6'2" combo guard Larry Lewis of Arcadia High School in Phoenix, Arizona according to WeAreSC.com:
Lewis verbally committed to the Trojans on Tuesday night, after sitting down with his mother and AAU coach, Jeff De Laveaga. The 6-2 guard had unofficially visited the Trojans several weeks ago and felt that experience, coupled with strong pushes from USC assistant coach Bob Cantu and head coach Kevin O'Neill, was enough to make him a Trojan.
"Larry wanted to get it done," De Laveaga said of the recruiting process, adding that Lewis chose USC for the location, the education and the chance to play as a freshman. "He had a great time on his unofficial visit. He said it was a great campus, with great facilities and he loved the staff."
Though Lewis currently stands at 6-2, he's projected to hit 6-4 by the time he's done growing, which may take several more years considering his age. Lewis will graduate at 17 and won't turn 18 until he's enrolled at USC.
With Jio Fontant becoming eligible to play next December, along with the arrivals of Bryce Jones in 2010 and Gelaun Wheelwright in 2011, Kevin O'Neill looks to have a formidable backcourt for years to come.