The Trojans have their ups and downs to start the 2012-2013 season sporting a 3-6 record. How does it look on the whole? Well, let us break it down.
Big Wins: Texas, Long Beach State
Tough Losses:Nebraska, San Diego State
Most Valuable Player: Jio Fontan
Biggest Disappointment: JT Terrell
Most Improved: Dwayne Dedmon
Average Home Attendance: 3,901
Report Card Time
The 2012 Trojans started the season off with relatively high expectations but have struggled to work together as a cohesive unit. With semester finals approaching across the nation, I took the time to grade out some key issues from the first nine games of the Trojans Basketball Season.
The Trojans are 3-6 and have struggled to play tenacious basketball for 40 minutes. After two straight wins to start the season, the team’s recent one for six stretch is concerning and compares to last season’s struggles.
In 2011, the Trojans started the first month with disappointing losses to Nebraska, San Diego State and Cal Poly. In 2012, the Trojans fell to both Nebraska and San Diego State in strikingly similar fashion.
START OF THE SEASON: (D+)
Obviously, the 2012 USC Trojans are more talented and healthier than last years squad, but they are struggling to play with the fire for an entire game. In four contests this season, the Trojans have fallen behind by double digits within ten minutes of tip off, making every possession extra stressful and important as the game progresses.
In three out of their last four contests, USC has fallen behind early and struggled to climb out of the wreckage. Whether this falls on the coaching staff or the players, this worrisome trend needs to end quickly. Too many times the Trojans have let the intensity of the matchup hit them in the face, and stronger teams are setting the tempo of the basketball game.
USC posts three seven-footers on their roster, who can all score the basketball. Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby are quick scorers that can use their size to create second-chance baskets. Byron Wesley has been a timid yet effective slasher who can score with his 6’5″ frame.
BALL MOVEMENT (D)
The biggest sign of concern on the offensive end of the court is the lack of ball movement. When the fast break gets shut down and the game turns into a half-court scrum, the Trojans’ offense becomes very ineffective.
With swing passes around the three-point line and the occasional isolation, Jio Fontan(right) is forced to make incredible plays that he should not have to make. This problem directly lies in Kevin O’Neill’s hand. At this point in the season, even the basic pick and roll game with Dedmon and Fontan would be an improvement over the hesitant offense the Trojans currently execute.
This current offense forces shooters to make tough contested shots which will never end with success. For a team that finished dead-last in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage last season, the Trojans should definitely look to take easier shots in this season.
Ball movement usually falls on the responsibility of the point guard, but I will give Fontan a pass for two reasons. One, he is just returning from an injury that sidelined him for most of last season. Secondly and most importantly, the Trojans are not setting screens or moving enough without the ball to help their senior guard.
In the second half of basketball games, the Trojans have kicked up the intensity and become quite the spectacle. Usually led by Dedmon and Oraby, the Trojans have fought their hardest in the second half.
In the second half this season, USC has outscored their opponents 303-280. That may seem like an insignificant amount, but take into account that the Trojans have lost six games this season. The second half surge that should be patented by USC Basketball takes a double-digit deficit and puts the game back into striking distance with about seven or eight minutes to play.
The best example of this was when the Trojans squared with ranked San Diego State. Playing all out for twenty minutes is fun to watch, but makes every Trojan loss an agonizing disappointment of what could had been. Down double-digits in the second half, USC sprinted back into the ball game with hustle and tenacious defense. The Trojans were actually leading with under five minutes to play and had some considerable momentum.
TWO GUARD LINEUP (B+)
When freshman point guard Chass Bryan enters the game, the Trojans gain a burst to their offense. Bryan is an explosive player that compliments Jio Fontan quite nicely on the court. Coach O’Neill resorts to this smaller lineup when he needs points and in bunches. Fontan loves to shoot the corner three-point shot, and placing Bryan on the point gives the offense continuity to spread the basketball and make shots.
The negative defensive implications limit the effectiveness of this lineup but for short stretches it has been quite effective. Bryan and Fontan have been a positive light on what has been a dull first part of the season on the offensive end. This allows Eric Wise the freedom down low to use his post moves to score the basketball. Wise has greatly benefited from the smaller lineup, posting 10 points per game while shooting 54 percent from the field.
BIG STAGE (C-)
The Trojans were presented a non-conference schedule loaded with quality teams in difficult environments. This schedule has seriously strengthened this club and exposed some major flaws on both sides of the ball. So far, the Trojans faced four ranked teams– count Illinois since they are now a top-ten team. The schedule looks great but the record is not, standing winless in four tries with mixed results in those contests.
Against Mountain West foes New Mexico and San Diego State, USC used their size and depth to keep the game competitive. Alas when Illinois and Minnesota squared with the Men of Troy, the team was overwhelmed by the opponents’ superior athleticism and strong fundamentals on both sides of the ball.
Early season wins over Coppin State and Long Beach State laid the foundation for what should have been a nice start to the season. Once stiffer competition arrived the Trojans went away from their strengths and began playing a style of basketball that is not conducive to their skill set.
The Trojans are a slow paced attack that want to use size and length to make life tough for the opponent. Regardless of the opponent, USC must look to play inside-out basketball starting with Dedmon and Wise as the forces to muster up success.
TEAM LEADERSHIP (Pass/Fail Course TBD)
USC needs a legitimate scorer to take pressure off a nucleus full of transfers and young players to Kevin O’Neill’s system. In nine games this season, J.T. Terrell is the Trojans leading scorer with 11 points per game.
Terrell has been anointed that man by coachO’Neill, but the troublesome shooting percentages need to change quickly. Against the best competition, the J-C transfer has not played up to his reputation. After posting over 20 points twice in Maui, Terrell has cooled off and is starting to become a detriment to the offense.
Terrell makes scoring difficult on himself by mustering up contested acrobatic shots, while also resorting to fade away jumpers instead of playing within the offense. USC’s starting shooting guard needs to incorporate his teammates into the offense. If Terrell continues this streak of poor shooting during inopportune moments, he will deflate the Trojans chances of playing a full 40 minutes of competitive basketball.
Terrell may not be playing like the leader but Dwayne Dedmon shows glimpses of being the emotional leader on this ball club. Dedmon’s intensity on defense and tenacity on the glass has been a positive sign. The issue for Dedmon this season has been moving without the basketball to grab strong post position. This will take time, but you have to love the effort delivered from the seven-foot emotional leader of the Trojans.