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USC Basketball season in review: Chimezie Metu

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The Pac-12’s Most Improved Player was key for the Trojans last season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-SMU vs USC
Chimezie Metu celebrates against SMU.
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

As USC Trojans basketball gears up for a new and exciting campaign, we look back on each individual player’s season and what to look for in 2017-18.

Impact:

Ever since Chimezie Metu took the court for USC, he’s more or less been the only real shot blocker on the team. Despite a strong recent history of rim protectors like Dewayne Dedmond and Taj Gibson, few have come since those great Trojans.

What that has meant for Metu’s two years is that he must stay out of foul trouble. As a freshman, he wasn’t always able to do that, but as a sophomore he welcomed more minutes and seized the opportunity.

Metu’s blocks actually went down from 1.6 per game to 1.5, but more importantly his minutes increased from 18.5 to 31.3 per game. That’s how crucial Metu is for the Trojans. He learned how to contest shots better without always fouling, as well as when to pick his spots to do so. With the departures of Nikola Jovanovic and Darion Clark, Metu was in the gym all summer to prove he could step into their shoes. He did that and more.

Named the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player, Metu averaged 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and shot a strong 74 percent from the free throw line. He came up large all season, especially with the Trojans missing the firepower of his best friend Bennie Boatwright. Metu carried USC on both ends of the floor for several games, in fact, there’s no way they win two NCAA tournament games without him. Returning for his junior year is arguably as important as keeping Jordan McLaughlin’s leadership at point guard.

Key Games:

12/28/16 - W @ Oregon State: 19 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and a block to open Pac-12 play with a key road win.

01/15/17 - W @ Colorado: 24 points, a career-high, and six rebounds to carry USC to a resume-boosting victory after the team had lost three of four.

03/08/17 - W vs Washington: Metu goes off for 24 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks in a must-win Pac-12 tournament game, all but securing a ticket to the Dance.

03/17/17 - W vs SMU: 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and two blocks to knock off SMU in a dramatic comeback and help win the Trojans’ second straight game at March Madness.

03/18/17 - L vs Baylor (NCAA Round of 32): Metu’s 28 points kept USC in a tight game against a great opposition. With his performance they almost made the Sweet 16.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Baylor vs USC
Metu in USC’s game against Baylor.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

What to look for in 2017-18:

The Trojans are adding a lot of fire power in the backcourt and on the wing this year. Where they’re not getting more help is up front. Metu is yet again the only player truly capable of effectively playing center against top competition. This means he’ll need to continue to progress, especially as a leader.

Though he took massive strides on the offensive end, the 2017-18 season should have a more defensive focus for Metu. Between Boatwright, McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart and newcomers like Derryck Thornton, scoring won’t be as needed from Metu. Getting around 12 points per game is a bonus for USC, but what he adds defensively is far more valuable.

What the Trojans need is for Metu to cement himself as one of the best defensive centers in the Pac-12. Stay on the court, make nearly every shot at the rim a nightmare, and show an ability to defend on the perimeter. If he can do all that and become a slightly better rebounder, he holds the keys to USC’s season, probably more so than any other player. Metu will certainly be up for that challenge in year three.