The USC men's basketball team is off to a 2-0 start. It's a quick start, not only to the season, but to making people forget the 2011-2012 season ever actually happened. With 10 transfers on the roster, there has been tremendous turnover on the team, so we're still learning about this team a week and a half into the season.
We may learn a lot about how competitive the Trojans could potentially be this season in the next few days. USC is currently in Hawaii where it will open up the Maui Invitational tonight against Illinois. With a field of teams that have excelled in the NCAA tournament recently (Texas, North Carolina, Marquette, Butler, Mississippi State), we will see just how quickly this team of second chancers is jelling together and what potential it may have.
Here's three things that we know from watching the opening two games and three things that are still to be determined but will be critical to the team's success this season:
3 Things We Know:
1. Jio Fontan makes things go - He wears No. 1 and when it comes to the Trojans, Jio Fontan is the No. 1 guy. He is the leader of the team -- both in example and in christening as coach Kevin O'Neill has all but made Fontan a player/coach. Fontan isn't going to lead the team in scoring, like he would have last season when he would have been one of the primary shot takers, but he is going to control the ball 60-75 percent of the time USC has possession.
With all the added weapons around him this season, Fontan has been able to become the facilitator that he says he enjoys being more than a scorer. Plus, with the added depth, USC is looking to push the ball more in the open floor, something Fontan was really looking forward to before the season.
2. Chass Bryan isn't your typical walkon - A Presidential scholar, freshman Chass Bryan is getting a full ride to school. He's still a basketball walkon. He doesn't get all the same amenities as some of his teammates, but on the court, the 5-foot-9 point guard is showing he's a valuable asset for the Trojans.
When in the lineup to give Fontan a breather, Bryan has been able to infuse energy. He tries to push the ball on any opportunity and has been a smart decision maker willing to pull the ball back out if there is nothing on the primary break. In the win over Long Beach, Bryan was perfect from the floor, making a pair of midrange jump shots. He also had four assists, two rebounds and a steal in his 15 minutes of action.
3. Getting Omar Oraby eligible was a huge boost - The day before the Trojans' first game, the school received word from the NCAA that 7-foot-2 center Omar Oraby's hardship waiver had been granted. The transfer from Rice did not have to sit out the season and was instead immediately eligible to play. He promptly showed how big that was for USC when the mountain of a man deposited 16 points (5-6 FG, 6-6 FT), grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots.
He has soft hands, displays soft touch around the rim and is a shot blocking machine. So far, Oraby has come off the bench, but don't be surprised if O'Neill decides to pair two of his 7-footers together in the starting lineup later in the season. Dewayne Dedmon is athletic enough to play the power forward position and Eric Wise could easily shift down to the small forward position -- potentially giving USC what would have to be one of the biggest lineups in the nation.
3 Things Still to be Determined:
1. How well will JT Terrell fit into the system? JT Terrell is the team's premier scorer. There is no doubt that he can fill it up and fill it up quickly. He's been able to get buckets at every level he's played, including in the powerhouse ACC his freshman season at Wake Forest. However, Terrell has forced way too many shots in the first two games of the season.
Is Terrell just trying too hard to make a strong impression on his new teammates and coaches or is this going to be a recurring theme throughout the season? Kevin O'Neill doesn't have much, if any, patience for the one-dribble, pull-up-over-a-defender midrange jumpers six seconds into the shot clock Terrell has forced so far.
2. How quickly does Dewayne Dedmon develop? Tremendous upside. No one will debate that 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon has that. But the question continues to be when does he live up to that upside? He's only been playing the game for a few years and injuries have kept him from playing full seasons.
How long does it take the athletic big man to adequately learn the game of basketball? He's only going to get better as he gets more game experience, but with potential games against star programs in the Maui Invitational and against San Diego State on Sunday, can O'Neill trust the big man not to make silly mistakes?
3. What will be the final rotation? Last year, USC finished the season with six healthy scholarship players and three of those players are not with the program any more. This year, O'Neill has so many new faces and so many options that it's going to take him some time to figure out exactly what kind of rotation he wants to go with. It would be nearly impossible to appease everyone's playing time desires. Good thing O'Neill isn't afraid to hurt anyone's feelings. Nevertheless, he still has to figure out what he wants to do with a bench that is 12-men deep.
Through the first two games, 10 players are averaging 10+ minutes and that doesn't include 7-footer James Blasczyk, who averaged 19.2 minutes last year, or senior swingman Renaldo Woolridge, who averaged 13.6 for Tennessee last season. O'Neill is still feeling out exactly how he wants to use his rotations. It will be interesting to see if he decides to use some of the more experienced players like Aaron Fuller, Blasczyk and Woolridge against the higher quality opponents the Trojans face in the next couple weeks and to see how O'Neill's rotations evolve throughout the season.