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A double-bonus for USC fans today!

Before USC plays Stanford this afternoon The basketball team opens up its season to day at the Galen Center against UC Irvine.

Dan Weber nails it with his piece today in the P-E...

[...] for the first time in his four seasons at USC, Coach Tim Floyd has something else -- something this school and its fans haven't really had:

A certifiable college basketball program that can somewhat sustain itself.

"I'm thinking about things differently this year," Floyd said while preparing for today's season opener at Galen (12:30 p.m.) against a veteran UC Irvine team that won 18 games a year ago and returns four starters from a team that went to the Big West Conference title game.

The difference this year, Floyd has said, is the way his program can handle the loss of its star players, like Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt and O. J. Mayo. Instead of taking a step back, USC has been able to build on its success.

Agreed...we are seeing sustained growth.

To me there is a sense of normalcy this season when compared to last season. Yes, the Mayo thing is still out there but that is out of our hands and as fans we need to focus on the here and now. Last season had some moments that were fun to watch but this season seems to give off the impression of having a little more balance. We have a lot more experience on this team than we had last season.

It's only a little bit different this season for the Trojans.

"We talk about having more experience back than we ever had - that's true," Floyd said. "We still have so many new guys. We have four players back who have been with us for three years. ... But again, we're so reliant on guys who haven't played here."

The one-year era of O.J. Mayo came and went, with mainstays Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis and Keith Wilkinson now the anchors of a team that is out to atone for a first-round loss to Kansas State in last season's NCAA Tournament.

With Mayo and Jefferson gone USC could be a more cohesive unit than last season. That means we could see a little more sophistication this season in regards to the type of play we saw last season that was more chuck it and dunk it. Of course USC has DeMar DeRozan and their new freshman phenom but I would expect him to move on after this season. It will be interesting to see if DeRozan is a more complete player than Mayo and the experience on this team may take some of the pressure off of DeRozan to perform.

After SC almost took out UNC in the 2007 NCAA tournanment there was a lot of hope as the short Mayo era began. SC made some great strides last season but the up and down nature of the play early on would come back to haunt them in their first round NCAA tournament loss to K-State. I think that punch in the mouth was exactly what this team needed. With Mayo and Jefferson departing the circus atmosphere was removed and players got down to work.

The big problem for SC was rebounding. Not just in the loss to K-State but all season long. Taj Gibson refocused to improve that part of his game.

Taj Gibson cannot forget.

The margin was just too overwhelming.

Kansas State outrebounded USC, 44-27, in the NCAA tournament last March, converting numerous put-back shots in an 80-67 first-round victory that eliminated the Trojans from a return to the round of 16.

Gibson, a 6-foot-9 forward, took a respectable nine rebounds in the defeat, one above his season average. But Kansas State's differential inspired him to increase the intensity of his preparation for this season.

"I knew I needed to improve my rebounding and I worked on it," Gibson said this week. "We've got some new players and I think we're going to be a better rebounding team. That's going to help us go deeper into the tournament."

That had been a problem all season...not enough size in the middle to grab important rebounds and it cost us in the tournament.

Depth will be the theme this season. Everyone is a year older but also there is some solid talent coming wth, other than DeRozan, freshmen Leonard Washington who will also provide some help on the boards. UConn transfer Marcus Johnson brings some solid experience as well. The availability of UNC transfer Alex Stepheson and freshman forward Nikola Vucevic are still in question due to NCAA issues. You can read about them here and here. I don't have a good feeling about either player getting cleared because of the Mayo mess. But if they were to get cleared Stepheson would would be a huge asset to have on the court.

Not being a huge hoops fan I am actually looking forward to the upcoming season.I don't have any delusions about SC winning it all but what I do like chances of being more competitive than we were last year

It gets underway today! The game is not on TV but I will have a thread up as I hope to listen to it on the internet feed from 710 ESPN...if the game is on which it doesn't look like it is so I may have to use Game Cast...