One week is officially in the books and the Trojans stand at 2-0, looking like the team we expected them to be coming into the season as opposed to last years disappointing campaign.
Coach Kevin O’Neil is very pleased with the performance of all his players, who have beaten Coppin State and Long Beach State by a combined 32 points.
The fever is back in Los Angeles as the Trojans are playing a brand of basketball that will allow them to compete for a tournament bid this season. This team is deep and has been able to flex its muscle so far this season.
Here are six key observations, some good and some bad, from the Trojans first week of basketball at the Galen Center:
1. J.T. Terrell Has Struggled Out of Gate
Transfer J.T. Terrell has been proclaimed the best player on this roster by many, but so far this season has struggled to find his groove for 40 complete minutes.
Against the Eagles, Terrell was the second half hero, scoring all 17 of his points then to lead the Trojans to the double-digit victory. In the second game however, Terrell scored eight of his 10 points in the first half. Terrell is never afraid to shoot, which is key in a Kevin O’Neil offense. If the Trojans want their best player to succeed he will need to get more touches.
But do not fear Trojan fans; this first week did not require a great performance from the team’s best player. As the schedule toughens this week at the Maui Classic, Terrell will need to carry the perimeter offense with his on-ball abilities and deep shooting touch.
In late shot clock situations this season, Terrell has been relied upon as the play maker. Expect that to remain as the season progresses with even better results as defense begin to respect the Trojans low-post offense.
Defensively, Terrell’s effort has surpassed that of his offensive one. Terrell is not letting his offensive struggles effect his tenacity and toughness. Against Long Beach State, Terrell held James Ennis, the 49ers leading scorer, to only 13 points on 4-11 shooting.
2. Omar Oraby is a Weapon
Omar Oraby posses two characteristics that will make him an elite player in the Pac-12: elite size and a strong shooter’s touch. Through the first two games of the season, Oraby has been lights-out from the field, putting up two double-digit performances.
The 7’2” center has become the Trojans most potent bench option, supplying intelligence and much needed scoring for this ballclub. In two games this season, Oraby is shooting 9-11 from the field, scoring 21 points in only 31 minutes. That type of efficiency gives Kevin O’Neil the luxury to rotate Oraby alongside Dedmon and Wise on what is becoming one of the best frontcourts in the Pac-12.
Oraby is a physical big man who is not afraid of banging down low in the paint or extending out for a 15-foot jumper. That type of ability gives this team balance in its offense.
Not only is Oraby scoring and rebounding but he is one of the Trojans best passers. As a junior, Oraby is very calm on the court especially when double teams come his way. Long Beach State resorted to swarming Oraby the second he found the basketball. He quickly dished the ball around the court, setting up open shots for his teammates. Vision on the court for a seven-footer may come natural but having court presence will put him at the next level as a big man.
3. Newcomers Eric Wise and Renaldo Woolridge Have Found Distinct Roles
USC’s two biggest transfers outside of Terrell have found quite a home with this basketball team. Wise, the transfer from UC Irvine, has found a niche in this offense as the grinder who capitalizes on second chance opportunities. Wise grabbed 12 rebounds against Long Beach State, using good post position and body control to dominate the paint all evening. Woolridge is atremendous defender but is struggling to find his role on the team. He has only mustered seven minutes through two games so far, and is still scoreless from behind the arc, after shooting 37 percent last season.
These two transfers have started off in different directions for the Trojans but will both be called upon as the schedule toughens. Expect Wise to remain a starter and large contributor, while Woolridge might remain a defensive stopper off the bench.
4. Coach Kevin O’Neil is Trusting His Bench
Last season the Trojans arguably played seven men deep. This season, no Trojan is averaging more than 30 minutes per game.
The season is early but expect the balanced playing time to remain. Twelve players on this Trojans roster have a legitimate shot of playing big minutes for this team, not to mention that Strahinja Gavrilovic, the teams best freshmen, is not even part of this list. This speaks to the depth the Trojans have acquired over the offseason that has gelled so far through one week. The bench is led by Oraby, Aaron Fuller, Ari Stewart and Chass Bryan.
The biggest surprise such far has to be Bryan, the freshmen point guard, who has taken over the role of Maurice Jones as the electric guard with lots of potential. Fuller has accepted the role of demotion from starter to bench forward but is playing very efficiently during his time.
Let’s hope the Trojans can continue to get constant contributions and large enough leads from their starters, to warrant more playing time for this strong unit.
5. Fontan is the Leader of This Team
Point guard Jio Fontan has returned as the face of this team after a season-ending injury last preseason, averaging four-and-a-half points and over five assists per game.
What makes Fontan special is his ability to slash through the defense off one dribble. This gives him the room to make plays, whether he dishes to an open teammate or he drives to hole and gets fouled. Having him back in the offense allows the Trojans to spread their shooters Byron Wesley and J.T. Terrell out on the court. Instead of constant isolation and praying poor “Mo Jo” Jones could nail a desperation shot, USC now can develop an offense.
Coach Kevin O’Neil is using this strength by incorportating lots of double high pick and roll action with Wise and Dedmon. This gives Fontan two options to pass, plus it opens up the lane for cutters to the basket from the perimeter. Although O’Neil’s offense is not the most diverse, using Fontan’s strength as a ball handler and play maker will allow this team to score easy baskets. Plus, his active play pressuring the opposing ball handler on defense, resonates with this team. Fontan’s effort every minute he is on the court is setting a great example for the younger and less experience players.
6. Dwayne Dedmon Holds Key to Trojans Future
Dwayne Dedmon has the greatest upside on this team, something that was showcased in the second half against Long Beach State. Three straight buckets and two blocks within a three minute span gave Dedmon the confidence to dominate the 49ers in the second half.
Dedmon is long, athletic and powerful but struggles to consistently score the basketball. His offensive game consists of dunks and put-backs, which actually can be quite effective in this USC offense. Against Coppin State, Dedmon grabbed 12 rebounds, including four offensive boards. In the second game, Dedmon was less effective, only grabbing 10 rebounds but he scored eight key points.
The key for Dedmon will be whether he can stay out of foul trouble. He does go through spurts of lazy defense, that allows opposing defenders easy access to the rim for second chance points.
The USC front court will travel as far as Dedmon takes them. For all the talk of Oraby and Wise, Dedmon is actually the difference maker that gives USC the freak athlete and tremendous competitor to win basketball games in the paint.
Coming Up: USC’s Next Contest is November 19th Against 2-0 Illinois in Maui