The USC Trojans (4-8) have struggled to find success in the non-conference schedule. With Christmas just around the corner, the Trojans definitely need some holiday magic to improve their poor start on the season.
Trojan fans have expected better from their new-look lineup that has failed to produce victories in the third season under Kevin O’Neill. Losers of seven out of their last eight, the Trojans are regressing at a dangerously concerning rate.
The non-conference schedule has been challenging so far for the Trojans but regardless, USC is not capitalizing on its opportunities. If the Trojans want to survive what will be a rigorous Pac-12, they must improve on all levels.
Here are some holiday wishes for the Men of Troy as they prepare for their final non-conference tilt versus Dayton.
Package Together J.T. Terrell
A preseason ESPN Top-100 rated player, J.T. Terrell has fallen short of expectations this season, forcing Kevin O’Neill to move him to the bench. After starting the season with fantastic double-digit scoring efforts, Terrell is overshooting his welcome in the starting lineup.
Terrell averages 10 points per game, while shooting 31 percent from the field. These stats from a man who was expected to be the savior for USC, propelling them into the top of the Pac-12. At this point in the season, coach Kevin O’Neill has resorted to playing Terrell sparingly instead of wasting offensive possessions with him on the court.
With Pac-12 play around the corner, Terrell needs to find easy shots on the floor, whether working off screens or becoming more of a catch and shoot player. Against UC Riverside and UC Irvine, Terrell received bare bones of playing time and was quite efficient from the field, shooting 50 percent from field.
Expect USC to continue benching Terrell until he can play with more hustle and determination on a nightly basis. The greatest gift USC will receive is a more efficient scoring effort from their supposed-star J.T. Terrell.
Big Men Must Play to Size
USC possesses a bevy of size down low with Dewayne Dedmon, Omar Oraby and James Blasczyk, who all stand over seven feet. So far this season, these men have played well short of their daunting size on the court.
The biggest disappointment so far has been the lack of offensive game instituted by Dedmon. Last season was his first true season playing basketball, giving fans a reasonable excuse for his slow development. This year, Dedmon is still struggling to score the basketball, missing easy shots on a nightly basis.
Dedmon is averaging 7.5 rebounds per contest, which is quite reasonable, but only 5.5 points per game is unacceptable. With a seven-foot frame and a gigantic wingspan to complement his athleticism; Dedmon needs to begin scoring in double figures.
While Dedmon remains passive on offense, Omar Oraby has carried the load in the paint. The transfer from Rice, has been a nice gift to the Trojans when truly motivated. Oraby is averaging just under eight points per game in only 16 minutes of action per night. The 7’2″ center is now starting for the Trojans as part of the new-look large lineup.
Lack of hustle best describes this unit for the Trojans. After the most recent game against Georgia coach Kevin O’Neill called Oraby the “epitome of us” because he “doesn’t play hard all the time.” As long as this unit continues to play unspirited ball, the Trojans will struggle to pull out these close ball games.
Coach Kevin O’Neill has stated that he possesses a lineup that can play 10 or even 12 men deep. During this holiday season, fans should ask the Trojans to solidify their rotation for the Pac-12 slate looming.
Beginning on December 15th against Riverside, USC switched philosophies in their starting lineup placing Eric Wise, Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby in the front court. Byron Wesley and Jio Fontan have started every game this season for the Trojans.
Aaron Fuller and Chass Bryan have been Kevin O’Neill’s favorite options off the bench, playing double digit minutes per game. James Blascyzk enters the game for the Trojans to alleviate minutes for Dedmon or Oraby, and works quite hard on the glass during his time.
Ari Stewart and Greg Allen are shooting specialist that play small minutes, yet probably deserve more time due to their ability to quickly make an impact on the game. USC needs to create a tight nine or ten person rotation to create stability, and in turn, solidify trust in the system.
Play With Sense of Urgency
All the Trojans want for Christmas is a fast starting offense. This season, the Trojans have made a habit of falling behind early in games without much of an effort early in the contest.
Falling behind 7-0, 12-2, etc. leaves no room for error for the rest of the contest.
USC has consistently shot poorly from the field, but have their biggest droughts in the beginning of games.
That being said the Trojans have competed in the second half, outscoring their opponents this season 391-355. More importantly, the team has played strong defense late in games, allowing the Trojan bigs to control the paint and push the tempo in the fast break.
If the Trojans want to succeed this holiday season, they will slow down the pace of the game and use their large forwards to control the foul game and limit the opponents hot starts. This may allow the Trojans sense of urgency that appears in the second half can play out for an entire 40 minutes.
Develop Identity on Offense
The Trojans have well-documented struggles on offense for legitimate reasons but how can this change? Simple, develop an identity on offense by implementing high-low ball movement and pick and roll action.
What constitutes as the Trojans offense is ineffective ball movement across the three-point line leading to many moments of isolation offense. Jio Fontan is then forced to resort to wild shots at the basket and desperation play to clean up the mess called offense.
Therefore shooters like J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise can never get open shots in their preferable spots, making scoring even that much tougher. If the Trojans want to score enough points to win, they must run some form of offense with pick and rolls and back-door cuts to the basket.
Final Holiday Cheer
Eric Wise has been the best addition to the Trojans this season. Wise is leading the team in scoring with 10.8 points per game, shooting 53 percent from the field.
Not only is Wise scoring but he has shown the athleticism to play either the four or three position for the Trojans.
A large portion of the offense will fall on Wise, especially from behind-the-arc an are in which he shoots 50 percent from.
The Trojans should be very thankful for the gift Eric Wise has been for them this season.