KEY WINS: @UCLA; @Arizona; @Oregon; S. Illinois; Oklahoma, Stanford
KEY LOSSES: Mercer; @Memphis; @Kansas; UCLA
KEY STAT: Field Goal % Defense is 39%
BIGGEST STRENGTHS: The Trojans are extremely athletic. Much has been made of super-frosh O.J. Mayo, but fellow freshman Davon Jefferson has been equally as important. Both are athletic, but Jefferson can be a match-up nightmare for any other opposing power forward. Mayo has the ability to create his own shot, while big man Taj Gibson is “springy” and very difficult to guard. Their collective athleticism also allows the Trojans to play arguably the best defense in the Pac-10.
While the backcourt isn’t as athletic as the frontcourt, guards Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett are athletic enough that their 6’5” frames can overwhelm smaller guards on the defensive end. Off the bench, true freshman Angelo Johnson is a quick penetrating point who adds to the overall sense of athleticism.
BIGGEST WEAKNESSES: There are two; first, the Trojans lack any real depth and second, they Trojans are small, thus they get killed on the boards.
When Hackett went down with a back injury a few weeks back, the Trojans looked tired, worn and dead. While it’s a credit to Coach Tim Floyd and his players that they were able to keep from packing it in on the season, they have shown that if Hackett or Gibson, or any other starter outside Lewis gets into foul difficulty, then they are in real trouble. There is no real frontcourt depth to speak of and Johnson provides the only backcourt depth. When Hackett went down, Floyd was reduced to using a walk-on for major minutes in the backcourt.
It’s been nothing short of amazing that USC has been as successful as it’s been this season while they’ve gotten simply buried on the boards. The Trojans are being outrebounded by the opposition for the season and have been killed in games against UCLA and Stanford. This will catch up to them in the post season when defense and rebounding is at a premium. The Trojans can play some serious defense, but their rebounding could very well be their undoing.
‘X’ FACTOR: When Hackett went down with the injury, many Trojan fans cringed. They know he’s the lifeblood of this team. Without him the Trojans have lost to Mercer, Arizona, UCLA, Washington State…you get the idea. Hackett is the team’s emotional leader. He’s the one that calms things offensively and talks to teammates that need talking to, (he’s the only one that Mayo clearly listens to). More importantly, he runs the offense, even when mayo is bringing the ball up. He plays within his limitations, which allows his teammates to be more creative. He is a hard-nosed defender who can run the point of a zone or take the other team’s point guard in a man defense. He’s the one Trojan that you don’t want to leave open behind the arc because he finds a way of burying those shots, especially when the Trojans need it to start or stop a run.
Hackett is up there with Kevin Love, Kyle Weaver and Brook Lopez as one of the most indispensable players in the Pac-10.
MIGHT LOSE WHEN……O.J. Mayo scores 30. That’s right, when USC’s best player goes off with regard to points scored, the Trojans lose. The reason is that Mayo has a tendency to take too many shots. That isn’t necessarily bad; you want your best player with the ball in his hands. However, Mayo has shown that he will frequently bring the ball up court and, without a single pass, launch a 25-30 foot shot. When it clangs off the rim, as it often does, it means a bad offensive trip and angry teammates. There are some members of the Trojans that don’t mind Mayo’s scoring, but they would like to touch the ball now and then.
MIGHT SURPRISE YOU WITH……freshman forward Jefferson. After being benched by Floyd earlier in the season, Jefferson has responded by being the second-leading scorer and rebounder on the team. While he doesn’t have an outside shot that scares opponents, he is so quick, especially with his first step, and so relentless around the basket that he is a nightmare to defend. He still has a tendency to talk too much to his opponents and to the crowd, but he is a very good player. He draws attention away from Mayo and Gibson and he doesn’t allow other teams to get comfortable on the defensive end.
Then there’s Dwight Lewis. He is the team’s “glue guy”. He will be the one that dives after loose balls, defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player and make the extra pass. This is huge on a team with three potential NBA first-rounders on the squad.
PREDICTED NCAA FINISH: USC has a lot of talent, a very good coach and the triangle-and-two defense, (just ask Memphis about that), and they can be scary-good. But they are also very young and make some really bad decisions at some inopportune times. That doesn’t bode well for the NCAA Tournament, in which defense and rebounding are key. If the Trojans face, say, a Big East team that likes to crash the boards and be physical, then the Trojans will be in trouble. Their lack of rebounding and depth will catch up to them quickly.
Second round…at best.