The USC men's basketball kicks off this Friday at Utah State and it promises to be an exciting one featuring dunks, fast breaks, three-pointers and plenty of hustle.
That being said, plenty of work needs to be accomplished in the opening slate of non-conference play before taking on some major programs like Villanova, Wake Forest and possibly Kansas at the Battle For Atlantis over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
In his first season as the USC head coach, Andy Enﬁeld inherits a team which returns two of its top three scorers from last season in guards J.T. Terrell and Byron Wesley, as well as 7-2 center Omar Oraby who showed great signs in limited minutes a year ago.
Now with over a month of practice under their belts, Enfield believes his players not only fit the system but should adjust rather well right from the start of the season.
"That's what the game is and we try to teach our players when you're running our system," Enfield says, adding "It's important for them to be put in game like situations and we break our offense down occasionally but a lot of our offense is based on reading their teammates."
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH:
J.T. Terrell (Sr.)-Topping the list of returning scorers is 6-3 senior guard J.T. Terrell, the smooth shooting perimeter player who averaged 11.7 points per game last season and lead the team in scoring (13.4 PPG) during Pac-12 play. Playing some of his best basketball under interim coach Bob Cantu, Terrell has shown an ability to fire up tough shots (which granted can drive players and fans insane at some moments) and connect from almost any point on the floor.
Byron Wesley (Jr.)-He made tremendous strides as a sophomore, expanding his repertoire to include the three-point shot. After making only one trey as a freshman, Wesley was third on the team with 23 makes, while nearly hitting at a 40 percent clip. As one of the most improved contributors this offseason according to Enfield, Wesley should make a tremendous leap in late shot-clock situations.
Omar Oraby (Sr.)- The tallest player on the Trojans roster averaged 6.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but if you prorated his production over a full 40-minute game he would have led USC with 17.3 points per game and pulled down 10.6 rebounds per game. With his improved conditioning and an expected increase in minutes, he figures to post numbers similar to his 18-point and 10-rebound performance in the Trojans first-round loss during the Pac-12 tournament.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
Enfield's greatest challenge may not be the offensive end of the floor, but instead slowing down the up and coming Pac-12 conference with teams aligned up and down the Top-25 national rankings.
"As we move forward, we're trying to replace these seniors with as good of players as we can find," Enfield says, describing his roster with eight new players this Fall. "Hopefully our recruiting class this year will end up successful but right now, we're concerned about players in the program because we expect to win games this year and compete."
Not only will the Trojans try to implement pressure defense up and down the court, this team will try to mix in its fair share of zone defense to complement their base full-court press.
Much in the same way Enfield gave Florida Gulf Coast a unique brand of basketball both ends of the court, USC will also look to wreak havoc by forcing turnovers and stepping into the passing lanes to propel its fast break offense.
The one thing that could be in the Trojans favor this season is the fact that people are expecting very little from this team, and while similar to years past, the combination of coaching and confidence could help this team in many facets.
If USC can find a solid rotation from the point guard position, with Chass Bryan, Pe'Shon Howard, and freshmen Julian Jacobs along with Kahlil Dukes (who Enfield highly praised for his strong play this Fall), this team will have the pieces to compete with every team they play on the schedule.
"The individuals are spending extra time working on their games, getting more shots up, working on their skills and they seem to really like each other which is important to me," Enfield said last week about his teams camaraderie. "If everyone's a good teammate, when you walk in the locker room, you want to be there."