The spring semester has yet to begin at Troy, but USC basketball is halfway through the regular season. With a 6-9 record, the Trojans have one win more than they did at this point last season. Head coach Kevin O’Neill looks to be settling into the rotation to face the rest of the Pac-12 with, so here’s the individual grades for each player at the season’s midway point.
- The Starting Lineup -
Jio Fontan: C+
After missing all of last season, USC's senior point guard and leader has been hot and cold so far. He's always aggressive in the lane, but is shooting just 30.9 percent from the floor, the lowest rate of any starter in the Pac-12. At 8.9 points per game, he's averaging under double figures for the first time in his career. He's been relied upon to carry a group of offensive players he's never played with before, yet is 3rd in the Pac-12 with 5.3 assists per game. Fontan is still hurting the Trojans with his struggles from the floor, but he's this team's undisputed rock and will be the player carrying this team if the Trojans do make a run.
Byron Wesley: C
The Trojans' second-leading scorer with 8.9 points per game, Wesley is slightly improved from his freshman season but still looks lost on the court at times. The sophomore moved from small forward to shooting guard after J.T. Terrell's benching, and struggles to keep up on the defensive end with his 2 guard counterparts. His aggressiveness pays off on the offensive end, but Wesley needs show the defensive ability and skill that made him arguably the top recruit from California in his high school class.
Eric Wise: B+
Undersized for a power forward (6'6"), Wise has struggled to grab rebounds and dominate inside against a higher level of competition than he faced during his three years at U.C. Irvine. Besides that, he's been golden. On a team starved for scoring, Wise has finished in double figures in 12 of the Trojans' 15 games. He leads the team in scoring with 11.4 points per game, and is reliable on mid-range jumpers while possessing a respectable post game. He's even found an outside touch, making 10 of 20 three-pointers in USC's last six games. He won't dominate a game, but he'll always be a factor for USC, and usually in a good way.
Aaron Fuller: C-
Moved up to a starting role after 10 games in, Fuller has seen minutes cut drastically (29.2 to 16.7) as Wise has earned heavy minutes. Besides his 12 points and 10 rebounds in the overtime win over Dayton, it's hard to remember Fuller really standing out on the court so far. He's averaging around four points and rebounds per game, and isn't being involved much in the offense. Missing wide-open jumpers and air balling a free throw, as he did against Cal, won't help his case. Fuller rebounds well for his size and is fearless in the paint, and needs to play within his limits if we wants to keep his starting role.
USC's most polarizing player, Dedmon can be a monster one game and a fly on the wall the next. He leads the Trojans with 7.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game to go along with 6.3 points. He's slowly developing a jump shot, but still struggles to finish down low and seems to always be sitting down thanks to some early foul trouble. The consistency just isn't here yet. For example, Dedmon has as many games with 3 or more blocks (5) as he has outings with not a single swat. Dedmon is an upswing (10.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3 BPG) in the Trojans' last three games, and will be needed even more against Pac-12 opposition.
- The Bench -
Omar Oraby: B
The Trojans' first man off the bench right now, the 7'2" Egyptian transfer from Rice is a perfect contrast to Dedmon. Oraby has refined his post moves and low-block shooting touch, and scores 7.8 points per game despite playing just under 16 minutes per outing. His 63.4 percent shooting is only a testament to his aggressiveness on the offensive boards for easy putbacks. He can't stand up athletically to Dedmon and apparently lost his free throw shooting touch (55.1% vs. 71.2% in 2011-12) somewhere between Houston and Los Angeles, but Oraby gives USC a pillar in the paint and makes it a rough going for opposing guards and forwards foolish enough to drive into the paint.
JT Terrell: D-
His 21-point performance in the Maui Invitational against Marquette prevents this from being an F, but Terrell has been the biggest disappointment of the season so far. Brought in to play the role of pure scorer, Terrell was laying bricks for most of the non-conference schedule. He is shooting 29.3 percent from the floor, and his subpar defensive job surely didn't help his case when O'Neill benched him after an 0-7 shooting performance against Minnesota. After leading the Trojans in scoring through the first few games, Terrell lost his starting job six games ago and didn't even play in Saturday night's loss to Cal. The talent and scoring ability are there, but O'Neill simply couldn't wait any longer for Terrell to ease out of his season-long struggle.
Chass Bryan: B-
The most unexpected member of K.O.'s rotation is the walk-on freshman point guard. Bryan wasn’t expected to play a huge role this year, but has earned every second of his 12.7 minutely average by making the hustle plays and complenting Fontan well when both are on the court. His stats aren’t impressive (2.4 PPG, 1.5 APG), but the Trojans’ shortest player (5’9") has snuck his way into the rotation.
Ari Stewart: D
It's perplexing as to why Stewart is only seeing nine minutes a game and already has 6 DNPs next to his name. Stewart has shown to have a flash of what the Trojans desperately need: long-range ability. That being said, Stewart hasn’t scored a point since the season’s sixth game. It may not be entirely his fault for riding the pine game after game, but Stewart’s grade is based on what we expected he could provide against what he’s done so far, which is not much.
Lost in the shuffle this season has been the Trojans’ third seven-footer. The emergence of Oraby has directly affected Blasczyk’s minutes, and the 7-foot-1 senior usually comes in when both big men have early foul issues. He hasn’t played terribly, but there just isn’t much need for a third center on this squad.
Greg Allen: D-
He’s no longer on the team after being declared academically ineligible, but that’s not necessarily a loss. Allen had played in just seven games, with his minutes being almost a third of what they were last season (7.7 vs. 21.2). Allen never found a consistent shooting touch after transferring in, and didn’t provide much off the ball either. Like Blasczyk, the increased amount of talent on this year’s squad resulted in him being phased out of the rotation.
The Rest of the Team (Brendyn Taylor, Renaldo Woolridge, Zach Banner, Strahinja Gavrilovic, Daniel Munoz, and Tyler Sugiyama): Incomplete
Taylor can knock down a jumper and play aggressive defense while Woolridge loves the three-ball, but besides that we haven’t seen much from either. Banner just joined the team after redshirting for some USC sports team that plays in the fall, while the other three have played a total of six minutes all year.
Team Grade: C-
This squad is miles above last year’s 6-26 train wreck, but it’s hard to be optimistic at 6-9, even with the difficult non-conference schedule. This team hasn’t won a true road game yet, and is last in the conference in scoring at 63.3 PPG.
As we saw against Dayton and UC Riverside (70-26?! Really?!), the Trojans can be a menacing defensive unit. The NCAA Tournament is a difficult proposition, but if this team can find some offensive rhythm and start knocking down more shots, then a finish outside of the bottom rung of the Pac-12 is quite possible.