It is now almost three months since the USC Men’s Basketball team’s historic and stunning exclusion from the NCAA Tournament.
After finishing with the highest RPI, 34, of any non-tournament team ever, to judge Head Coach Andy Enfield solely on last season’s results may be hasty. But make no mistake—if USC fails to make the Big Dance for the second consecutive year, Enfield’s tenure will be over.
In order to get there, and keep his job regardless, these are three things he has to do this upcoming season.
Secure a Marquee Out-of-Conference Win and Improve Against the Pac-12’s Best
These fall under the same category, because in all likelihood Enfield must accomplish both in order to make the tournament and thus save his job. Other than improbably winning the Pac-12 Tournament, he does not have the luxury of an either-or option.
By leaving USC out of the 2018 field, Enfield said at his post-Selection Sunday press conference that the committee implied,
“If all that matters is the quality of the best win or two of your schedule, then we should set the field in December after the out-of-conference (schedule) is complete.”
Fair statement aside, the fact of the matter is a lone win against future No. 12 seed New Mexico State did not get the job done. The Trojans had several opportunities to beat stronger tournament teams. It’s also why Arizona State, who finished 9th in the Pac-12 and lost in the first round of the conference tournament, went dancing while USC didn’t get asked to the prom. Even though the Sun Devils lost five of their last six games, November and December wins against Xavier and Kansas among others pushed them through.
And if it wasn’t already clear, the three Pac-12 schools that made the tourney, ASU, Arizona and UCLA, combining for zero wins, confirmed the Pac-12 is currently nowhere near the caliber of the other four Power Five leagues. A solid but not stellar conference season isn’t going to get it done. Solid in that the Trojans finished second in both the regular season and the conference tournament; not stellar in that they went 0-5 against those three schools.
No Scandals Whatsoever
Frankly, it’s a minor shock Enfield is still in charge. The combination of missing the tournament and assistant coach Tony Bland’s potentially criminal dealings concerning former player DeAnthony Melton would’ve been fair grounds for Enfield’s removal.
An independent, school-sponsored investigation found Bland acted alone, without the knowledge of Enfield, or anyone else from the school for that matter. However by and large, a blind eye is not an excuse—just ask Rick Pitino. Bennie Boatwright, who is still on the team, and Chimezie Metu were also named in the FBI probe.
O.J. Mayo may be before Enfield’s time, but the controversy and subsequent penalties he brought on are still fresh in the minds of Trojan fans.
Enfield cannot survive another scandal, no matter how small. They all add up; while former USC president Max Nikias resigned largely because a former campus doctor committed crimes far more serious than college recruiting violations, what sealed the deal on his departure was the laundry list of scandals leading up to and including this most recent one, Bland’s among them, regardless of whether Nikias had knowledge of the misconducts themselves or their cover-ups.
It took this program a long time to recover from the post-Mayo sanctions. Another setback would cripple it for years to come.
Develop Charles O’Bannon Jr. Into an Integral Piece of the Rotation
As the first McDonald’s All-American to come to the program in over a decade, and the former No. 30 ranked player in his class by ESPN, O’Bannon Jr. is simply too talented not to be a factor for this team.
Enfield needs to figure out a way to break out his potential—O’Bannon Jr. played more than 10 minutes just twice last season, and scored more than three points just once. USC has a tough task ahead replacing Metu, Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart. Though there’s plenty of hype surrounding incoming freshmen Elijah Weaver and Kevin Porter, who are ranked No. 35 and No. 38 in the class of 2018 respectively, but to place expectations and trust in the pair is both unrealistic and unfair.
Enfield has done a great job the last few years leading the way on the recruiting trail; according to 247Sports, USC was ranked No. 31 in 2017, and this year fared even better at No. 18. However if those recruits don’t pan out, it’s ultimately on the guy who signed them. O’Bannon Jr. was the highest touted of the bunch, and it’s Enfield’s responsibility to get him going.