Bumped - P
Last Season: 19-15 (10-8) T-4 in conference
2 returning starters (Jones, Fontan - ACL most likely out for season)
3 lost starters (Vucevic - 16th overall Philadelphia 76ers, Stepheson - Graduated, Simmons - Graduated)
Lost to Virginia Commonwealth University in NCAA Tournament play-in game 59-46.
2010-11 Season Recap
Last season was a roller coaster five months filled with enough highs and lows to make even the casual fan intrigued. The Trojans opened 2-0 before being completely embarrassed at home by Rider University 77-57 and then losing to Bradley University 64-63 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament in Springfield, Mass. A few games later, the Trojans lost on the road 81-69 to Texas Christian University, a team that went on to finish the season at 10-21 and 1-15 in the Mountain West. So of course it figures the team would return from it's road trip to play one of it's best games of the year, leading wire-to-wire against No. 19-ranked Texas to win 73-56. After a heartbreaking loss in Lawrence, Kansas to the Jayhawks and an enthralling victory at home against that school across town, the Trojans bounced between good and pretty ugly all the way into the month of February. With the Trojans falling short at Pauley 64-50 on February 2nd, the team sat at 12-11 (4-6) and looked down for the count with not much of a chance to make the postseason dance.
Whether it be Coach O'Neill's pep talks (see yelling and cursing) or the playing without any pressure, the team buckled down and won 6 of its final 8 regular season games including a rousing upset of Arizona at home on national television. A win against Cal and a very competitive game against Arizona in the PAC-10 tournament was enough to get the team into the play-in game against eventual Final Four team VCU.
2011-12 Season Preview
5 key players from last year's team are gone including PG Jio Fontan who tore his ACL in the preseason exhibition tour in Brazil. Fontan remains optimistic that he will return by February but the average timetable for ACL injuries has Fontan out until at least late March. Coach O'Neill must find a way to replace 80.2% of last year's scoring and 78.9% of the total rebounding and knows he's got a lot of work in store for this season. "This business is about dealing with adversity and bumps in the road," O'Neill said. "I've done a lot of that in my career but nothing can be worse than losing your best player on a foreign tour."
With Fontan out, the Men of Troy will have to rely heavily on sophomore PG Maurice Jones (9.9 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.0 SPG) to handle bringing the ball up court as well as be a primary scorer. O'Neill will also have freshman Alexis Moore run some point at times to open up Jones for scoring opportunities. Replacing Vucevic and Stepheson down low will be JuCo transfer Dewayne Dedmon, who O'Neill says "runs like a gazelle." His raw athleticism and never-ending motor will be a sight to see and should inspire the rest of the team to play at a very high level. Coaches said Dedmon was a huge influence on Vucevic and Stepheson last year in practice, pushing them to be better and perhaps one of the biggest reasons the Trojans made the 2nd half jump to get into the NCAA tournament. O'Neill is so high on Dedmon that he even went as far as to say, "He's the best athlete of his size I've ever seen, including the NBA."
The Antelope Valley College transplant is already being projected by some as a first-round draft pick in the future and for those who don't know, Dedmon only started truly learning the game in early 2008 when he approached AVC head coach Dieter Horton and said he wanted to play basketball. Raised an Jehovah's Witness by his fervently adherent mother, Dedmon was forbidden from playing sports because as his mother stated, "you can't serve two masters." To read more on his amazing journey, check out this fantastic piece written by Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard.
6-6 junior Aaron Fuller should start at the 4 for us and he shouldn't have any problem on the glass despite only being shorter than some future opponent PF's. Fuller, a transfer from Iowa, averaged 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a game in 09-10 with the Hawkeyes despite playing just over 24 minutes a game. A hard-nosed grinder, Fuller is a lefty with a good basketball IQ who can consistently finish around the rim, something Stepheson struggled with last season. Fuller should provide good minutes and a strong presence down low this year.
Freshman Bryon Wesley out of Etiwanda HS will also start quite a few games this year for the Trojans. His 6-5 frame will allow him to body up with some of the bigger 3's in the conference. Wesley averaged 19.2 PPG his senior year and will play primarily as a wingman/slasher for the Trojans but also possesses the ability to stretch the defense with an above average mid-range and 3 point shot.
The other starting spot is going to be a revolving door this year. Against CSUN, O'Neill will start 6-4 senior Eric Strangis. Strangis only appeared in 6 games last year playing a total of 7 minutes. His senior year at Crescenta Valley HS, he averaged 14 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists as team captain, but his first big time action as a Trojan will test his abilities. Strangis has performed very well in practice and has a fantastic basketball IQ. He won't be counted on to score but he doesn't turn the ball over and makes good plays in addition to knowing all the plays from multiple positions. His athletic ability probably isn't PAC-12 quality but he should be serviceable for the time being.
Later in the season once Moore gets some experience, he could definitely be an option at the point. If O'Neill wants to go big, he has a couple of options in 6-6 sophomore Garrett Jackson and 7-1 junior James Blasczyk. Jackson was the Gatorade Oregon High School Basketball POY his senior year but struggled to find his game much of last year. He came off the bench in 33 of USC's 34 games and shot 55.6% from the field but at times seemed lost on the floor, not knowing all of the plays or losing a defensive assignment which limited his time to 10.8 minutes a game. He is versatile enough to play the 3 or the 4 on both sides of the ball and should see plenty of playing time however the question will if Jackson can be productive with his time on the floor this year.
Blasczyk played in 09-10 at Texas A&M but transferred to a JC last season and didn't play in order to preserve his three years of eligibility for USC. O'Neill likes his abilities, saying "he shoots the ball well for a big guy, runs the floor as well as anyone his size and will be a great defender."
The Trojans also have a great outside shooter in 6-3 junior Greg Allen, a transfer from Navarro Junior College in Texas. His senior year at Eureka HS he averaged 25.1 points and last season averaged 11 PPG while shooting nearly 40% from downtown. He will provide a good offensive spark off the bench for SC this year at the SG position.
The rest of the team is either injured or ineligible to play this year due to transfer restrictions. Fontan as previously mentioned is probably out for the season, big-man Curtis Washington is out for the year with a torn labrum, and oft-injured shooter Evan Smith is out for year as well with a torn labrum. Washington and Smith were expected to only play minor roles at most this season.
With the huge loss of talent to be replaced this year, O'Neill will once again have a huge emphasis on defense with this year's squad. For USC to be competitive with the better teams on the schedule they will have to do as they did last year, holding opponents to 44.4% 2-point shooting, 38th best in the nation. O'Neill's strategy has always been winning with defense and last year's team gave up 70 points or more only 5 times. The schedule is quite difficult and will definitely test the younger members of the squad as 22 of the 31 opponents finished last season with a winning record, including Kansas, San Diego St, UNLV, New Mexico and potentially North Carolina in the Las Vegas tournament after Thanksgiving.
Those who follow the team and our recruiting situation know that this year is going to be a build-up year for next season when the team has a serious chance to challenge for the regular season title. This year's team isn't projected to do well and it's understandable to think that considering the amount of producers we lost but this team is deeper than last year's and has the chance to hang with anyone if our defense shows up every night. There's going to be growing pains but I know I'm excited to watch the team progress throughout the season and play some good ball and surprise some teams.