Editor's Note: Sorry I've been a little MIA these past few weeks. Semester has been busy, but nonetheless, I'm going to try and get back in the swing of things.
Okay, so we're all in that awkward phase in college athletics, where the football season is clearly over (esp. with the conclusion of Signing Day), basketball season is uneventful and spring practice is still a month or so away. Eventually, we're going to have to start conference expansion rumors. And hey, look at it this way: Sanctions at least gave us something to talk about between January and August!
But I figure it's fitting we talk about the current state of USC hoops, because well, they just played last Saturday (they lost in case you missed it) and are the closest thing to football there is (and yes I realize that's pretty sad). But I do want to share a few thoughts, because there are a few things I'd like to keep in mind as the team approaches the final stretch run.
1.) Jamie Dixon is not coming to coach USC: Now, let's all hold hands and repeat that. Dixon just signed an extension at Pittsburgh this past offseason, he likes the program and the community, and in all honestly, does the fact that he went to high school in Sherman Oaks, Calif. mean he's going to leave a top-5 Big East team with a chance to win an NCAA title to take over a program that can't fill half its 10,000-seat arena for a conference game? My take: no way. Let's move on.
2.) Firing Kevin O'Neill isn't a serious option, really: O'Neill is suddenly becoming a pretty polarizing figure on the message boards, which I personally find to be incredibly entertaining. When hired, O'Neill was never intended to be the long-term replacement for Tim Floyd. He was a caretaker, if that. Nobody was going to touch this job; there were very few options even out there. That isn't a condemnation of O'Neill as a coach (he worked miracles last season). That's just to say that, well, he was never intended to be "the guy." You don't hire "the guy" months before you institute a self-imposed postseason ban. Just not how it works.
Under the given circumstances, do I think O'Neill is the right man for the job? Yea. He's provided stability, a no nonsense mentality and has show an ability to recruit. But it's another thing to say he's the longterm fit. That's an entirely different question. IMHO, he's not. He's never been. It's not who he is, and if you look at his career, he's a guy that straightens messes out (see: Tennessee). So, if O'Neill's not figured into the long term plans, then why keep him around you say. Simple answer: Letting him go would return the program to square one. By letting him stick around, you give him a chance to see if he can actually turn things around, and more importantly, stock the program with bodies.
If you fire the guy, it's likely that the incoming recruiting class, which does include Byron Wesley, will be lost, in addition to the departures of Marcus Simmons, Donte Smith and Alex Stepheson. So that'd leave Jio Fontan, Garrett Jackson, Maurice Jones and possibly Nikola Vucevic around. Depth would become more of an issue. The most important thing for this program, whether you're a fan of O'Neill or not, is recruiting. And getting rid of a coach after two seasons, does more harm than good in that regard.
3.) Blaming the zone is superficial
Beating a zone defense is far and away USC's biggest problem; we've outlined this on several occasions. But we've been beating that drum far too long (note: we did start earlier, though). It's not the only nagging issue, and I guess we wouldn't be doing our due diligence if we didn't highlight some other concerns, namely defense, which has been rather unspectacular as of late. Against Cal, they gave up 38 second-half points, and against Oregon, they didn't really seem to close out on shooters particularly well either. Let's not even discuss the Arizona debacle. A year ago, they were fantastic defensively. This year, it's becoming a question marl.
If you're clamoring for a more elequant take, here's my weekly column for the DT.
Otherwise, share your thoughts below.