The USC men’s basketball team enters the 2019-2020 season with a revitalized roster following a disappointing 16-17 campaign. Head coach Andy Enfield and his staff continued their hot streak on the recruiting trail, putting together an extremely strong recruiting class highlighted by 5-star big men Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu. The rest of the deep class includes 4-star small forward Max Agbonkpolo, 3-star guards Kyle Sturdivant, Drake London, and Ethan Anderson. On top of that, the Trojans also landed graduate transfers in small forward Daniel Utomi and point guard Quinton Adlesh. These new look Trojans kicked off their season last Friday with an exhibition match against perennial powerhouse Villanova in a game that did not have the feel of a mid-October matchup. The new faces in the program put their stamp on the game, with Onyeka Okongwu dropping a 15 point, 10 rebound double-double and Daniel Utomi draining 5 of 7 threes for 15 points in their first games at the Galen Center.
Ultimately, the Trojans weathered a 3rd quarter run by the Wildcats to come away with an impressive 72-61 win over a Villanova team ranked number 10 in the nation in the inaugural AP Preseason Top 25. Although, it should be noted that this was not a Villanova team at full strength — as they were missing leading scorer Collin Gillespie and 5-star freshman Bryan Antoine. While the result of the game may be inconsequential in terms of wins and losses, it provided insight into the identity of this Trojan team and some of their potential strengths and weaknesses.
One persistent theme for USC throughout the night was the strength and switchability of their defense. The starting lineup that Andy Enfield trotted out against the Wildcats had unbelievable length, with 6’6” point guard Elijah Weaver, 6’10” Isaiah Mobley at small forward and 6’9” and 6’11” Onyeka Okongwu and Nick Rackocevic in the front court (alongside 6’3” Jonah Matthews at shooting guard). This supersized lineup was able to clog up passing lanes while the impressive athleticism of Mobley and Okongwu allowed the Trojans to switch everything on screens. Consequently, a Villanova team that was third nationally in 3-point attempts last year on a respectable 35% shooting was held to an 8 of 34 performance against the Trojans.
On the other hand, this USC outfit bolstered a strength of last year’s squad by adding several plus shooters to a team that already made a blistering 38% of their threes last season. While forward Bennie Boatwright, one of the best shooters on the team, graduated this past year — the Trojans still have Jonah Matthews to rely on alongside the additions of Daniel Utomi and Quinton Adlesh who are 39% and 40% career 3-point shooters respectively. Utomi showed his elite shooting ability against Villanova and while Adlesh did not get much run, he is bound to help create spacing as well. Considering the two talented 5-star big men and All-Pac 12 honorable mention and 2018-2019 leading scoring Nick Rackocevic down low, this extra spacing should provide ample room on the block for the frontcourt to feast on opposing defenses.
Moreover, the depth of the squad was made clear against the Wildcats. The Trojans have a talented 11-man rotation that did not see any drop off in ability when the bench came in. On Friday night, freshman point guard Ethan Anderson flashed tantalizing potential. He had a monster dunk in the first half and a stretch in the 2nd where he took over with smooth handles, an imposing physical frame (at 210 pounds he looks like a linebacker on the court), and a beautiful step-back jumper. Teammates Jonah Matthews and Daniel Utomi simply described him as “different” and “a dog” in a post-game interview.
Moreover, talented 4-star recruit Max Agbonkpolo is bound to flash his talent throughout the season. Quinton Adlesh is also a nice veteran leader and floor spacing threat to lead the reserve unit. Development from sophomore starting point guard Elijah Weaver will also be an integral part of the season, and he also had a strong outing against the Wildcats with 11 points and 3 rebounds.
Overall, the Trojans do not appear to have any glaring weaknesses at this early stage in the process. This team appears to be talented, deep, and willing to put in the effort to be a staunch defensive unit. The question as always for USC will be maintaining consistency and effort throughout the entire season. After a hot start last year, the Trojans experienced a precipitous fall off marred by inconsistency en route to a below average record. Starting out 5-2 the Trojans went on to 4 lose in a row and then win 4 in a row in a frustrating pattern that would repeat for the rest of the season. If Coach Enflied can get his team on the same page every night, this is a squad talented enough to make noise in a competitive Pac-12.