2007-2008 USC Trojans Preview
2006-2007 Record: 25-12 (11-7) T-3rd in Pac-10 Postseason Games:
03/08/07 vs. Stanford W OT 83-79 OT (Pac-10 Tourney)
03/09/07 vs. Washington State W 70-61 (Pac-10 Tourney)
03/10/07 vs. Oregon L 81-57 (Pac-10 Tourney Title Game)
03/16/07 vs. Arkansas W 77-60
03/18/07 vs. Texas W 87-68
03/23/07 vs. North Carolina L 74-64
2007-2008 Returning Statistical Leaders:
12.2 PPG- Taj Gibson
8.7 RPG- Taj Gibson
2.8 APG- Daniel Hackett
Starting Lineup and Key Stats:
C- Taj Gibson 6’9” Soph. Incredibly athletic big man.
F- Davon Jefferson 6’8” Fr. Shoots 57% from the floor.
F- Dwight Lewis 6’5” Soph. Does the little things.
G- O.J. Mayo 6’5” Fr. Arguably best frosh in the land.
G- Daniel Hackett 6’5” Soph. Inspirational team leader.
Key Player Losses: Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt and Loderick Stewart
This would seem to be a no-brainer, what with the excessive media coverage that Mayo has garnered since his unforeseen signing with USC last spring. Mayo is all he is cracked up to be, but Jefferson could be as influential on USC’s postseason hopes as Mayo. Jefferson is shooting much better from the floor and, perhaps more importantly, he is willing to bang inside, thus giving Gibson some much needed protection, something that Gibson didn’t have last season and it cost USC against North Carolina in the Sweet 16.
Where is the leadership on this team? The starting lineup consists of three sophomores and two freshmen. In fact, the only two upperclassmen who see any real floor time, RouSean Cromwell and Keith Wilkinson, are averaging about 12 MPG combined, and neither has the kind of personality for leadership. That puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of some young kids, especially Hackett, who has become the team’s unquestioned leader. Hackett did get some good seasoning watching Young and Pruitt last year, however, it’s asking a lot to have a sophomore lead a team that has only one senior and three juniors on its 16-man roster.
Get Him on the Floor:
As good as Mayo is–and for that matter so are Jefferson and Gibson–the real necessary ingredient to this team is Hackett. His stats aren’t jaw-dropping. He has only a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and only averages 4.2 APG. It’s the intangibles that count with Hackett. He is undoubtedly the toughest player on the squad, but he is also the team’s calming influence. USC almost won at Kansas and Memphis (and played much better than did Georgetown against the Tigers), mainly because Hackett was pulling the strings at the point. USC lost to Mercer. Hackett sat out that game.
Losing Mayo would hurt since he’s averaging almost 20 PPG, but the Trojans have players who could pick up the slack. Same with Gibson, Jefferson, etc. If the Trojans lost Hackett, their season would, for all intents and purposes, be over.
USC is incredibly athletic, but what makes them so dangerous is they now play defense with a purpose. Coach Tim Floyd has followed the paths of UCLA and Washington State in instituting a defensive philosophy that would historically be more at home in the Big East. As the season goes on, and assuming the Trojans suffer no significant injuries, then the defense will only get demonstrably better.
The key for USC will be getting the right matchups. Come Tournament time, when things tend to become more oriented towards the half court game, the Trojans may suffer because they lack any real “bulk” inside. Gibson and Jefferson are amazing athletes, but if they are asked to go up against, say, the frontline of North Carolina, they will find the going difficult.
The Trojans will make the NCAA Tournament, but just how far they get will depend, of course, on their draw. If they face like teams in size and mass, then they have the capacity to get to the Final Four. However, their youth wouldn’t make a first round flameout implausible. Based on the law of averages, they’ll probably finish somewhere in the middle, such as another Sweet 16 exit.