The talk at the beginning of the year was about how Kevin O’Neill had enough capable bodies to play 11, possibly 12, men deep. So far , the coach has stuck to his word. What needs to be posed however, is whether this influx of talent is helping the team or leaving them short of their true potential.
Through six games, USC stands at 3-3 and still searching for their identity. Currently, the Trojans suffer from a first half shot-making phobia and also fail to put forth a full effort for 40 minutes.
What the Trojans have presented is athleticism and lots of it. But, can the Trojans keep up with more talented teams by throwing the kitchen sink at them?
Kevin O’Neill must manage his deep, yet under-performing, roster to get them playing at their best for an entire contest. Here’s one way to do it:
Starting Lineup Needs to Improve
The starting guards, Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell and Byron Wesley. have struggled from the field. Against SDSU, the big three shot 6 for 29 from the field and have not improved upon these numbers all season.
Fontan is struggling to score, shooting 22 percent from the field, and due to his most recent health concerns, he has not been able to find his groove from the field. Though despite not scoring efficiently, he is dishing out assists at a strong rate.
Byron Wesley is taking less shots this season, which is actually helping his efficiency. Wesley is shooting 45 percent from the field leading him to just under nine points per game.
The newest addition, J.T. Terrell, is firing up shots at will, but the problem is that he is taking too many bad shots and making life difficult for his scoring efforts. With only 12 points per game on the same number of shots, Terrell is overshooting his potential.
While this group has struggled to score, the front court has picked up the pace with intensity and pure effort. Dewayne Dedmon is a double-double waiting to happen and Eric Wise has quietly become the most consistent scorer on the team. These two have fueled the Trojans in their victories and are key as to whether they can compete on a nightly basis.
Key to the Bench: Omar Oraby
The most valuable player on the Trojans bench has to be Omar Oraby. He adds size and a physical presence to the Trojans front court. If Oraby can develop a more-deadly post game, he will become a double digit scorer on a nightly basis.
In six games this season, Oraby has brought in 21 rebounds, while averaging just 13 minutes per game. The most important stat that Oraby has brought to this bench is his size however, registering 10 blocks and seven offensive rebounds.
The 7-foot-2 transfer from Rice struggled against SDSU, missing shots while also getting pushed around by the smaller Aztecs. Then took out the entire game of frustration on Jamaal Franklin late in the second half, immaturely putting the game out of reach.
Chass Bryan and Jio Fontan Meshing Well
In multiple games this season, Kevin O’Neill has played Bryan and Fontan at the guard positions, opening up the attack. Both guys enjoy the new option and it should definitely stick around once Pac-12 play rolls around.
Bryan is an undersized point guard that fights every minute. He is averaging 11 minutes per game, shooting 37 percent during those times with a strong two-to-one turnover ratio.
This two-point guard lineup implemented by O’Neill helped the Trojans get back into the basketball game. It may be a nice flex option down the stretch for this team. Bryan must continue to play beyond his years as a freshman.
Little Known Players Will Make Future Impact
Renaldo Woolridge, Stahinja Gavrilovic and James Blasczyk have all rode the bench for long periods this season. All three bring distinct talents to the Trojans bench that will be vital once Pac-12 play begins.
Woolridge is an athletic monster, who can affect the game with his tenacity. Blascyzk is the key seven-footer on this team that can attract take much needed fouls and clean up the paint for the Trojans. The healthier forward, now has the stamina and proper health to provide quality minutes for this team.
The greatest star of the bench, Gavrilovic, is a team-oriented player that will shine the moment he gets his chance. He can score with both hands and can play beautifully within the offense.
Watch out for these three keys as O’Neill begins to expand his rotation. This may go against conventional wisdom, but these player are too valuable to waste.
A New Rotation Alternative
The most athletic lineup the Trojans can offer is similar to the current roster, but it offers a nice twist. Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell, Dewayne Dedmon, Eric Wise and Gavrilovic would be the starters.
Then, off the bench, Byron Wesley would actually play the two guard with Renaldo Woolridge as the three man. Wesley deserves close to 25 minutes a night as the sixth man and Woolridge is a 10 minute per night flex option for his defensive assets.
Omar Oraby would be the main weapon in the paint. He would play alongside Ari Stewart to stretch the court with their perimeter play, for good stretches of the game.
Aaron Fuller would be the flex players that could play the three or four position, and do not forget the three point shooting ability that Greg Allen offers this club. He led the team last season in that department and will be relied upon this season as a comeback specialist.
All of this flexibility in this lineup should give opponents fits all night long. The biggest issue for USC Basketball is playing to expectations, which can only be done by playing aggressive and smart for 40 minutes.