Our countdown concludes with USC's leading scorer that returns from last season, forward Nikola Jovanovic.
1. Nikola Jovanovic - Forward
The Serbian sophomore has bulked up, gaining over 20 pounds of muscle since the end of last season. USC will rely heavily upon Nikola Jovanovic, who averaged eight points per game last season shooting 51-percent from the field. Jovanovic did excel this summer, lead his team of Pac-12 players in scoring during a two-week basketball tour of China.
After scoring in double figures for nine of his first 15 games last season, Jovanovic slowed down significantly in conference play. In some of the games where he played a larger impact, scoring 23 against Cal (in a rare USC Pac-12 victory) on 8-of-10 shooting and 21 points versus Washington, the Trojans were much more competitive.
If USC wants to compete with many of the more physical teams in conference, especially playing without a true center on the squad, Jovanovic must be able to score down low and hold his own as a defensive rebounder. He only averaged 4.4 rebounds last season, and the coaching staff believes that will improve with size and more experience.
We actually expect Jovanovic to be featured in a Nikola Vucevic role (offensively) here in the 2014-2015 season. The Trojans want to feed him the ball about 6-10 feet from the basket and allow the free-flowing Serbian to use crafty up-and-under moves to attract attention down low and away from the bevy of shooters in the lineup.
Jovanovic likes to score from the elbows, so feeding him the ball with his back to the basket would allow him to utilize an assortment of post moves he's developed over the offseason. Playing an undersized five will probably help him on offense, to be honest, because now he has the size to complement that crafty skill set with the basketball.
USC will rely heavily on Jovanovic, who scored in doubles figures 11 times last season. What's interesting to know is that the Trojans were 8-3 in games he reached that mark, a scoring total the coaching staff expects him to average nightly. Since this team is so limited in the front court, featuring only two players at 6-foot-11 or above (Malik Martin the other), Jovanovic will also be asked to be a force rebounding the basketball.
Basically, the Trojans need Jovanovic to be on his game every single night. They can not afford to have him start out of the gates slowly, something he admitted to doing against Cal State Los Angeles. Despite a rough start, Jovanovic regained his confidence in the post finishing the game scoring in double figures.