USC Basketball Must Build Fundamentals To Match Expectations

Mar 17, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; USC Trojans forward Nikola Jovanovic (32) reacts after the game against the Providence Friars at PNC Arena. The Friars 70-69. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; USC Trojans forward Nikola Jovanovic (32) reacts after the game against the Providence Friars at PNC Arena. The Friars 70-69. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

USC basketball has come a long way, but the Trojans will need to work on fundamentals after being exposed in the final minutes of their brief NCAA Tournament appearance.

USC basketball can hang their hat on making the tournament and lasting as long as Baylor, Purdue, Arizona and Michigan State did. They can also hang their hat on sweeping UCLA, even if the Bruins are coming off their worst season since Hall of Fame coach John Wooden took over the program in the 1940s.

What they can’t hang their hat on is fundamentals.

Andy Enfield implemented an up-tempo style that is built on break aways and highlight-reel dunks. Somehow free throws don’t really fit into that style of play. Apparently, running clock late is also something that doesn’t factor into Enfield’s philosophy.

The Trojans, with three minutes to play, appeared to have Providence put away. However, a string of turnovers and missed free throws gave the Friars an opportunity late. A play setup near the basket, somehow led to forward Rodney Bullock finding himself wide open for the easy lay in and a season-ending loss for USC.

Those final moments were a microcosm of the season, and quite frankly the previous two seasons under Enfield. The Trojans at times had difficulty finishing teams off, and were near the bottom in free throw percentage in the Pac-12. Both of these things came back to bite USC and end its season.

The Trojans were without a field goal and only 1-for-4 at the free throw line in the closing minutes. Two costly turnovers and a 7-1 run later, Providence advanced to play North Carolina in the Round of 32.

Enfield has something to work on this off-season. Fundamentals.

It would be nice if his team could hit the only shot that goes uncontested in a basketball game, especially when his philosophy is to go to the rim. That’s how you get teams in foul trouble and have the best chance of making a field goal. Sadly, if you can’t capitalize, it doesn’t matter.

It would also be nice if the team would continue progressing in the half court, ball possession game. Maybe run the clock by moving the ball around and waiting for a man to get open late in the possession? There has been way too much isolation down the stretch this season, and it has caused bad shots or even worse, no shots.

It would also be nice if the team realized that this is collegiate basketball and not the And1 street league. Dunks are cool and all, but pretending to be the Globe Trotters loses its flair after a while. Especially when you realize the Globe Trotters never won a championship and were there for the sole purpose of entertaining the crowd.

Now some of you reading this might be thinking, what’s his problem? He sounds like an old man!

Lets look at the teams that win championships, specifically at the next level. They look a lot more like the Spurs, fundamental half court game, and a lot less like the Clippers.

What about Golden State? That’s another issue, but the Trojans haven’t fallen in love with 50-foot shots yet, so there’s no point in getting into it.

USC’s shot at making the Final Four was very slim, but now there are Final Four expectations in Troy.

The bar has been set, and the pressure is on Enfield with the majority of the team returning for a 2016-17 campaign.

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With a new Athletic Director in place, Enfield has to implement a more sound style to ensure the Trojans can become legit contenders.

“USC just hasn’t had the sustained success of some of the so-called ‘basketball schools,” said Enfield. “Our job and our goal was to come in and create a sustainable culture.”

Enfield has the right mindset, but does he have the right philosophy? For now, his troops have gone from five wins in conference over two seasons, to become a twenty-win team with a March Madness appearance.

Going forward however, inexperience will no longer be an acceptable excuse.