Last season under coach Kevin O’Neill, the USC Men’s Basketball Team finished with a record of 6-26. New horizons hopefully await the Trojans as they are set to battle the Eagles of Coppin State tonight at the Galen Center to kick off the Maui Invitational.
Not only did the Trojans finish with an abysmal record last season, they could only muster one win in league play, which was the lowest total in USC history. Although this team was not that talented to begin with, the roster was completely decimated by injuries before the beginning of league play.
Players were getting injured left and right for the Trojans including returning players Jio Fontan, Dewayne Dedmon, Aaron Fuller, Evan Smith and Curtis Washington. Life was rough for the Trojans who battled issues with depth, scoring and athleticism all season long.
In come the Coppin State Eagles to kick off the 2012 season. Last season, the Trojans opened up the season with a 66-59 victory over Cal State Northridge and have shown over the years, whether under Tim Floyd or K.O., to play complacent basketball early in the season.
The key for the Trojans will be to not commit turnovers and sticking to their strengths on both sides of the ball. On defense, the Trojans are long and athletic which can make life miserable for opposing teams.
Coppin State flew out all the way from Maryland, and were selected to finish 10th in their conference this season. Head Coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell is beginning his 27th season as head man for the Eagles. In his first 26 years, Mitchell has posted a .523 winning percentage, including a most recent trip to the NCAA tournament in 2008.
Mitchell’s bunch is decimated after losing five seniors from last season, and will be one of the most inexperienced teams the Trojans face all season.. They do return five letterwinners from 2011, most notably sophomore Taarig Cephas a 5-foot-10 guard, and junior 6-foot-5 forward Michael Murray; each of whom averaged five points off the bench last season.
The biggest loss for Coppin State is First Team All-MEAC Guard Tony Gallo, who averaged 17 points per game last season. This year’s ball club will add nine new players and will also be much bigger this season, with 6-foot-9 Charles Ieans and 6-foot-7 Zachary Burnham among the incoming class.
In 2012-2013, the Trojans will be the complete opposite of this team for many reasons but most notably, the Trojans can play 11 or 12 deep. Besides the six players previously mentioned, Byron Wesley, Eric Wise, James Blasczyk and Greg Allen all return.
This past offseason, the Trojans received some much needed help in the depth department, when ESPN top-100 forward Strahinja Gavrilovic was recruited to play in Los Angeles. Transfers Renaldo Woolridge of Tennessee and Ari Stewart of Wake Forest provide the Trojans proven pieces from the ACC.
The biggest chip added to coach Kevin O’Neil’s arsenal has to be JC-transfer, J.T. Terrell. Terrell has been announced in the starting lineup for the game, and will immediately provide the size, quickness and athleticism as a 6-foot-3 shooting guard for the Trojans.
Not to mention that Omar Araby, a 7-foot-2 center from Egypt, who has just been cleared to play by the NCAA could be the best pickup of the bunch.
The future is bright for Kevin O’Neil’s team as he now has the size, speed and depth to compete with any team in the conference.
That being said, this matchup presents the classic trap game opportunity that the Trojans must desperately avoid. With J.T. Terell just recently promoted to the stating lineup, the Trojans’ starting five will have multiple scoring options from all spots on the field.
If the Trojans want to leave Galen 1-0, they must intimidate the scrappy Eagles with their size and athleticism. Dewayne Dedmon and Renaldo Woolridge could have a field day for the Trojans down-low.
This game may not be the most balanced on paper, but do not underestimate the Eagles, as they have the leadership of a savvy veteran coach and will embrace the underdog mentality.
Game time is set for 8 p.m. at the Galen Center. Come witness the beginning of a new era in depth, size and power as the Trojans look to flip the script from an embarrassing 2011 campaign.