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Basketball season officially begins

Believe it or not, for someone who isn't a huge basketball fan I am actually excited about the season and the team that Tim Floyd has put together...

USC Basketball officially opened practice yesterday with a closed-to-the-public practice at the Galen Center. Tim Floyd looks to rebound from an early exit from last years NCAA tournament and the loss of of the teams top scorers in OJ Mayo and Davon Jefferson.

With Coach Tim Floyd deciding against a "Midnight Madness" exhibition for fans, the Trojans traded glitz for grit, running through various drills and listening to coaches bark about technique in an upstairs practice gym with the doors closed to visitors.

"Go straight to work," junior guard Daniel Hackett said. "I think it was good for us."

The Trojans were looking for a change-up after losing their opening game the last three seasons. "This year we do things different," Hackett said.

Of course the continuing NCAA investigation into Mayo's allleged receiving of improper benefits is also out there so any anticipation over the upcoming season should be tempered with caution until the final ruling comes down.

Anyway, until that does happen its time to take a look under the hood and what's in store this season.

I think its is pretty clear that the team underacheived last season yet as Tim Floyd starts his 4th season he has been the constant in the program and you can see how the team under his leadership has progressed. Part of that is in the talent he has recruited. I didn't agree with the local press when they proclaimed that USC had "closed the gap" with ucla but Floyd's NBA experience has drawn a number of players to USC.

The other is that Tim Floyd descibed as a basketball junkie is a student of the game...From ESPN's Insider Blue RIbbon team Preview ($)

Those who know Floyd expected nothing less than a reversal of fortune for USC's program. A basketball junkie, he's the first in the arena to take his suit jacket off once the game starts and usually by the first TV timeout, the tie has been loosened, the top button on his shirt is nothing but a memory and he's sweating more than the majority of the players.

When the game starts, Floyd is one of those coaches who literally transforms into a sort of trance. Recruiting, preparation, scouting aside, when the ball is thrown into the air to the final whistle, Floyd has perhaps a dozen peers in the college ranks. One can watch a month's worth of USC games without witnessing an obvious in-game mistake on his part.

Not that that comes as a surprise when talking of a former assistant coach to the legendary UTEP coach Don Haskins, who passed away on Sept. 7. Floyd spent nine seasons at UTEP from 1978-86.

"He is the coach that I will always measure other coaches against," Floyd said. "His love for the players, his ability to create, his listening, his presence. I have not found a coach that has measured up to him. He has strong beliefs about life and he transferred that to the game. Everything I do is as a result of him. He taught me everything I know."

Obviously though FLoyd isn't perfect as the 1st round loss to K-State in last years tournament shows. Even wth the loss of Mayo and Jefferson SC still has a lot of talent and if the NCAA clears transfer Alex Stepheson to play immeidiately some think that this team might actually be just a little more talented than last year.

Although the Trojans might not be as flashy, they should be stronger inside and far deeper on the bench. And they get another super freshman, DeMar DeRozan, to replace Mayo.

All of which gives Coach Tim Floyd reason to hope that his team, which starts preseason practices at the Galen Center tonight, can make school history with a third straight invitation to March Madness.

"Get yourself to the NCAA tournament and make something happen at a national level on a national stage," he said.

The obvious short-term goal is for USC to win a Pac-10 title, something that could be difficult as crosstown rival ucla goes for their 4th consecutive NCAA Final Four.More on them in a bit.

Outlining the Pac-10 race, Floyd made the case for his Trojans as the team that may have the best shot at preseason favorites UCLA and Arizona State. The reasons are many, Floyd said.

Start with four three-year returnees -- a first in the Floyd era. They are Gibson, Lewis, junior guard Daniel Hackett and redshirt sophomore forward Kasey Cunningham.

Mix in another one-and-done talent to match Mayo, Compton's 6-7 DeMar DeRozan. Lewis looks for DeRozan to play like Mayo, but "more spectacular " and make the play where "your jaw drops."

[...] While Floyd said he has no idea how the pending hardship appeal will go for 6-9 North Carolina transfer Alex Stepheson, he did say USC will sport a down-low rebounder and tough inside defender.

That would be 6-7, 230-pound freshman forward Leonard Washington, who came out of Lake Charles, La., two years ago to play his senior year at LA Marshall and is "kind of nasty," according to Floyd.

On defense, Floyd expects to roll out a solid group of at least six strong rebounders -- seven with Stepheson -- but said it's the next six who will make a difference this season.

DeRozan is probably a one-and-done but he comes with much less fanfare than Mayo did and that might go a long way to having DeRozan settle in and not have to put the weight of the world on his shoulders like Mayo did. Washington will be the key if Stepheson isn't cleared as a strong presence inside will go a long way this season.

Briefly, while ucla has a lot of talent themselves including a couple of very talented freshmen they lose Kevin Love to the NBA. His replacement J'mison Morgan Isn't quite where Love was when he arrived and a big inside presence was supposed to be the missing piece last season. Either way they are still the team to beat but they rare just a little bit closer to catch but not by much.

If Ben Howland thinks that SC is one of four teams to win the conference then SC must have something going for it, I still think that's a karma play on his part but the talent is right there for SC to hold a spot in the Top 25 through out the season the question will be if they can put it all together to do what they are capable of and contend for a Pac-10 title and go deep in the tournament.