The USC Trojans finished a grueling non-conference schedule with a 5-8 record after winning their last game over Dayton 63-61 in overtime.
Throughout this infamous season, the Trojans have experienced many highs-and-lows. Obviously a losing record is quite worrisome but after dissecting each contest, I see some positive trends amongst the large amounts of negatives that surround this team.
First and foremost we need to thank the basketball gods for the end of 2012, a year that was not kind to the Men of Troy. During the entire 2012 calendar year, the Trojans amassed a record of 6-24 with only one Pac-12 victory.
Times were expected to change in a positive direction with the additions of JT Terrell, Eric Wise, Omar Oraby, Ari Stewart, Renaldo Woolridge and the return of point guard Jio Fontan. Yet so far this season, the team has struggled to gel with all the new pieces and its play is suffering as a result.
With all this potential why has Kevin O’Neil’s bunch not clicked? Lets go through some of the best and worst moments of the USC Men’s Basketball season.
POSITIVE: 7-Footers Come to Play Every Night
The USC Trojans are the only team in the Pac-12, and NCAA Divison-I for that matter, that play three seven-footers in their rotation. Dewayne Dedmon, James Blascyk have returned from injury and look much stronger on the floor.
The newest addition, Omar Oraby, has been playing outstanding basketball in his limited playing time. Oraby is averaging eight points and four rebounds per contest in only 15 minutes of action per night.
Beginning against UC Riverside on December 15th, Kevin O’Neill rewarding his hard-working big men by placing both Oraby and Dedmon in the starting lineup. The Trojans have responded positively winning tw0-of-four and increasing their rebounding totals in every contest.
All three seven-footers present different strengths for the Men of Troy. Dewayne Dedmon is the most athletic of the bunch, who blocks close to two shots per game while racking in seven rebounds.
Oraby is equally impressively, but on the offensive end, shooting 62 percent from the field this season.
James Blasczyk has been a leader on this team, even from the bench, with his hustle and determination on a nightly basis. O’Neill has commended Blasczyk for his work on the glass, and on the defensive end of the floor. This entire unit has been one of the few bright spots this season.
NEGATIVE: Awful Perimeter Shooting
This season, the USC Trojans have continued their horrendous pace from the field, shooting 41 percent, the lowest field-goal percentage in the Pac-12.
The biggest culprits in this shooting struggle are JT Terrell and Jio Fontan. Considered to be the two-most capable scorers heading into the season, both players have shot under 30 percent from the field.
Not only are shots not falling, but the offense is also not creating easy opportunities for its best players to score the ball. This can be most recognizable in the Trojans three-point shooting, which registers only 32 percent of its attempts per game.
Starting shooting guard Byron Wesley has replaced JT Terrell as the main shot taker on the team, yet the results remain nearly the same. Wesley is shooting 45 percent from the field, but is actually taking two less shots per game this season.
Overall, the entire back court of USC needs to take and make better shots if the Trojans want to make life easier on the offensive end. At least USC is finally scoring over 60 points per game, a plateau that plagued the Trojans early in 2012.
POSITIVE: Victory Over Dayton Was Promising
In their last preseason tilt, USC defeated a good Dayton club with a team-orineted apporach on offense. The perimeter shooters made shots when necessary, but the big men carried the load.
The Trojans placed Aaron Fuller in the starting lineup, and he played like the man who started for USC last season. Fuller scored 14 points while racking in 10 rebounds, locking down Dayton’s explosive post players.
Eric Wise led the team with 19 points on 60 percent shooting, while also making three of four shots from behind the arc. Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby dominated the glass racking in 13 combined rebounds. The Trojan big men contested Dayton’s three-point shooters, limiting them to 14 percent shooting effectively taking away their best asset.
This slower pace of play worked right into USCs hands, allowing their size and aggressiveness to wear down the high-tempo Flyers for most of the game. This style of play will allow the offensively challenged Trojans to compete in Pac-12 play.
NEGATIVE: Losing Winnable Games
With losses to UC Irvine, Nebraska and Georgia on the record, USC has spoiled three opportunities to defeat inferior opponents. Not playing to expectations have plagued USC this entire season, especially in these three crucial games.
The biggest sign of concern has been the slow starts. USC fell behind by double digits, fighting back to half-time deficits of eight points in two-out-of-three contests. When Irvine visited the Galen Center USC was out-shot from the field, while committing nearly twice as many turnovers, 16 t0 nine.
On the road at Nebraska USC came to play early. Leading in the first half by four points, Nebraska went on an 11-0 run to decimate the Trojans momentum. From that point on, the Cornhuskers never looked back taking a 20-point lead in the second half.
Against Georgia, USC has the lead after 20 minutes and were on their way to grinding out a road victory. Instead the immature Trojans got in foul trouble and stopped playing fundamental defense, allowing Georgia to shoot 61 percent from the field in the second half.
These losses have deprived USC of a chance to gain any momentum heading into Pac-12 play. With USC being ranked ninth in the preseason poll, the Trojans will have winnable match ups that they must capitalize upon.
FINAL THOUGHT: Do Players Connect With Kevin O’Neill?
He was named the 2010 Pac-10 Coach of the Year by CollegeInsiders.com. USC was in the hunt for the conference title until the final two weeks of the season, despite playing the second half of the year with self-imposed sanctions that would prohibit them from postseason play.
The next season USC made the NCAA tournament with a 19-15 record, eventually losing to cinderella-story VCU. Since then, things have not blossomed out for coach O’Neill.
The last two seasons have been quite stressful whom has delt with a bevy of injuries decimating his lineup. What has been most bothersome is that the Trojans have played uninspired basketball, especially this season.It seems as if certain players on the team do not buy into the system, making a fundamental change towards team-oriented defense nearly impossible.
At 55 years of age, coach Kevin O’Neill’s loud and intense coaching style may not be connecting with this group of Trojan recruits the way it has throughout his 30-plus year coaching career.