USC's men's basketball will look to rectify the demons of an 11-win campaign under first-year coach Andy Enfield with another challenging conference schedule, but a winnable non-conference slate this upcoming season.
The Trojans started 9-4 last season before suffering five straight losses (all by 18+ points) in conference play, leading down the tumultuous path of a 2-16 conference record before an early first round exit at the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
Exit starters Pe'Shon Howard, Byron Wesley (Gonzaga) and Omar Oraby and in their place enters a breed of young, talented prospects that will be expected to do big things right from the start of their Trojan careers.
USC is scheduled to play 11 games against teams that played in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and another 10 potential match ups against teams that played in the postseason as part of the NIT, CBI or CIT tournaments last year.
This relatively inexperienced roster, which does not feature a single senior on the team and loses three starters from last season, will open the 2014-2015 campaign hosting the Portland State Pilots November 15th at the Galen Center.
The Pilots tied for fifth in the Big Sky Conference last season (17-15 overall) but return their three top scorers from a season ago. USC did win the only meeting between these two clubs, 87-78, at home way back on January 20th, 1978.
The next test will come at the Charleston Classic featuring big-ticket programs Miami, South Carolina, Penn State along with Darion Clark's former squad, the Charlotte 49ers. The Trojans then return home against local rival Cal State Fullerton, whom USC beat by 14 points last season, before their toughest non-conference game on the docket.
I am so excited to see this competitive schedule for the 2014-2015 season! #FightOn— Nikola Jovanovic (@Nik_Jovanovic) August 7, 2014
One of the toughest places to play in college basketball, New Mexico's "The Pit" will host coach Enfield's squad on November 30th. The Trojans then return home for a matchup with the lowly LMU Lions, who lost four starters from a team that only won two West Coast Conference games all year before an intriguing home matchup against Utah State.
The Trojans then travel across the country to face Boston College before returning home on December 30th to face the Vermont Catamounts, who finished one win shy of reaching the NCAA Tournament, closing out non-conference play.
Once things wrap up there, Pac-12 play will really challenge Enfield's fledgling squad. The Pac-12 schedule is set as far as the opponents and the weeks of each game, but specific dates and television schedules will not be finalized until early September.
Say what you want about USC's overall talent but the Trojans were not handed the kindest of starts to conference play. USC will travel up north to play Colorado and Utah, facing programs that both have tough home environments and talented squads that could easily qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
USC will then return home the following week for (what should be) competitive games against Cal and Stanford. But the biggest game on everyone's mind is the USC-UCLA game in the middle of January at the Galen Center. The student section came out in staggering numbers for the game and that would be expected once again, regardless of record.
One break the Trojans do catch in the conference schedule, however, is that due to the two-year rotation on the calendar USC will only have to play Arizona and Arizona State only once during the 2014-2015 season.
The Trojans will not have to travel to face the Washington schools either, a state that has never been too kind for the team (both on and especially off the field) before heading to what we hope will be the drained-out Pauley Pavilion to conclude Pac-12 play.
The postseason prize at the end of the tunnel --and for USC probably the lone chance to experience March Madness-- will occur during the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament which takes place March 11-14 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Regardless of USC's seed, the tournament is always highly competitive and quite fun to watch unfold.