Bob Cantu has inspired the USC Men’s Basketball team to play better on offense, a brand of basketball that has woken up the once dormant element of this team. The Trojans are 5-5 under Cantu, with a slew of positives and then two distinct head scratchers against Arizona and most recently versus UCLA.
The Trojans are left in a state of flux attempting to rekindle momentum from their four-game winning streak after losing the last two games in completely different fashion. This team has shown flashes of brilliance against Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona State. At the same time however, these types of performances have also exposed some major flaws.
Eight of the first ten games have gone down to the wire, and the Trojans have won five of those contests. The Trojans are playing to the level of their opponent, and in doing so, giving fans a reason to come to the Galen Center. When 7,000-plus fans packed the gym last weekend, USC looked like a team afraid of the big moment, lacking swagger against cross-town rival UCLA.
UCLA did not fall into the trap once again and showcased their scoring presence against the hesitant Trojans. The Trojans meanwhile are an inexperienced team filled with older players, a weird dynamic but a large product of the transfer frenzy that hit the team last season.
As the future of USC Basketball unfolds, the next generation of players, JT Terrell, Byron Wesley and Chass Bryan play much better in a fast-paced style; yet they have shown a lack of effort on the defensive end of the court.
I must admit that this team has surprised me with their play in conference. The Trojans faced the toughest non-conference schedule according to BPI rankings, losing five games to ranked teams. That being said, USC bounced back in the conference by competing with the elite teams while not losing to inferior opponents.
The more we talk Trojan revenue sports–which is debatable given the attendance at Galen–the discussion of failing expectations continues to reach the proverbial Trojan dinner table. Despite the impressive conference slate, USC is prime for another losing season and yet another one-and-done trip in the Pac-12 tournament.
As the final weeks of the season tick down, Arizona and Arizona State travel to Southern California to cement their cases for NCAA Tournament bids. These two opponents alongside UCLA are strong contenders in the conference and have the recruiting prowess and strong coaching pedigree to continue winning.
The Bruins survived a rough start, losing to Cal Poly and defeating UC Irvine in OT without Shabazz Muhammad. Arizona has lost to Colorado twice, yet continue to power through as the strongest team in the conference. Arizona State just lost to Washington at home, a team that has lost 10 out of the last 11 games; yet their slot still remains firm on the bubble.
Back in Los Angeles, the Trojans sit completely out of this discussion and more towards what is the future of our program? Right now, the team is focused around speed, tempo and fundamental freedom to shoot at all times from all spots on the court. This has been Bob Cantu’s greatest gift and his greatest curse.
Despite the Trojans scoring outbursts–now averaging over 70 PPG in conference play–USC continues to post a negative scoring differential. While the monotonous days under Kevin O’Neill and Tim Floyd never impressed athletes, the team understood the message and played quite well making numerous NCAA tournaments.
Fans should commend Bob Cantu ‘s effort as a head coach thus far, but the next two weeks will speak to the entire direction of the USC Men’s Basketball program. Both teams present different challenges as ASU shoots the lights out from the field, lead by Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon. The Arizona Wildcats play with a set of future NBA stars led by strong point guard Mark Lyons.
These are the types of programs, and more specifically, the types of athletes that are dominating the sport of basketball, at the college and especially the NBA level. All that praise being said, two victories by the Trojans this week would send the team on a binge towards building around Roschon Prince and the next generation of flex SF/SG athletes.
Two blowout losses on the other hand and the Trojans will be thrown back to square one, searching for the next Taj Gibson to solidify the programs need for defense. Pat Haden and the rest of the athletic department should seriously consider these next two games as the barometer for the entire direction of the program.