USC Basketball ranks as high as No. 5 in post-draft deadline rankings across the web after sealing the return of Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu and others.
The future looked plenty bright for USC Basketball immediately following the 2016-17 season as “way-too early” rankings hit the web with optimistic projections for the Trojans. But even those Top 25 lists pale in comparison to the hype Andy Enfield’s team is now receiving.
Thursday signaled the final day for underclassmen who had declared for the NBA Draft to withdraw their names and return to school. With a more clear picture of rosters for the coming season, basketball writers jumped on the opportunity to reassess their preseason rankings.
More than a few like the Trojans. A lot.
Here’s a rundown of post-draft deadline Top 25 rankings:
Fox Sports — No. 5
Aaron Torres of Fox Sports had USC ranked particularly highly at No. 12 in his initial Top 25. Now he’s going all in on the Trojans by settling them in the Top 5.
"No, this isn’t a typo — the USC Trojans should begin the season in everyone’s Top 10, and sit at No. 5 in our poll…Enfield’s biggest issue might be finding playing time for all his talented players. It’s a problem he’ll gladly take, as the Trojans are legit national title contenders."
Notable rankings: No. 1 Arizona, No. 11 UCLA
The Big Lead — No. 5
Torres isn’t the only one jumping whole-heartedly on the USC bandwagon. Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead has been on for the ride even longer. He ranked USC at No. 5, placing some big expectations on Trojan shoulders, but he had them at No. 6 in his rankings back in April.
"Nobody had a better two months than the Trojans and coach Andy Enfield. Everyone is back…USC made the Elite 8 in 2001 – led by Brian Scalabrine – and that was their best postseason in 50 years. This roster is Final 4 or bust."
Notable rankings: No. 1 Arizona, No. 18 UCLA, No. 25 Oregon
FanRag Sports — No. 8
Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports doesn’t feature USC in his Top 5, but No. 8 is still a ranking to be excited about.
Notable rankings: No. 2 Arizona, No. 23 UCLA
Yahoo! Sports — No. 9
Another Top 10 ranking for the Trojans comes via Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports, who ranks USC at No. 9, that’s five spots up from No. 14 where they were ranked earlier this year.
"With UCLA, Oregon and Cal each hemorrhaging talent, USC could be the program poised to take advantage…USC will bring back virtually every key player from last year’s 26-win team that won two NCAA tournament games…Andy Enfield’s biggest problem with a roster so deep may be managing playing time issues."
Notable rankings: No. 1 Arizona, No. 13 UCLA, Oregon (honorable mention)
CBS Sports — No. 9
Gary Parrish of CBS Sports gave USC one of their highest rankings back in April at No. 12. Now, with the Trojans at No. 9, he’s much closer to the average.
"USC is always susceptible to an underclassmen or two making a curious pro decision, for whatever reason. But if everybody who should return to school does return to school, the Trojans just might win their first Pac-12 regular-season championship since 1985."
Notable rankings: No. 1 Arizona, No. 21 UCLA
NBC Sports — No. 12
Rob Dauster of NBC Sports calls the Top 25 for the coming season “awful uninspiring” because there is no clear cut top team. That just means USC at No. 12 is within touching distance of contenting.
"There is a lot of talent on the USC roster for now, especially now that Metu, Stewart and Boatwright are all returning. The Trojans will push Arizona for the Pac-12 title if they decide to defend."
Notable rankings: No. 2 Arizona, No. 14 UCLA
ESPN — No. 13
In April, USC just made the honorable mention list over at ESPN. Now in Myron Medcalf’s rankings, the Trojans stand at No. 13, which is actually on the low end of the round up.
"Right now, USC is the only team on the West Coast that will return with a nearly identical roster from last season…USC will enter 2016-17 as a Pac-12 title contender and more. Five-star forward Charles O’Bannon Jr. and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton round out one of the nation’s most impressive, deepest rotations. The Trojans, however, barely cracked the top-100 in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. That must change if USC intends to consistently compete with the best teams in the country."
Notable rankings: No. 1 Arizona, No. 14 UCLA
USC Basketball hasn’t garnered this much preseason attention in decades, but it’s well-deserved considering the Trojans’ stacked roster.
Enfield may not boast the top players in college basketball today, but he’ll lead arguably the deepest roster in the country.
In fact, USC’s line up appears to be the perfect combination of depth and balance. Veterans like Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart will be matched by exciting young prospects like De’Anthony Melton and Charles O’Bannon Jr.
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More than one writer proposed the worry that the Trojans may have too much depth, and working out a healthy rotation will certainly be key for the coming season. At the same time, that’s a good problem to have.
One of USC’s great strengths in 2016-17 was that contributions could come from anywhere on any night.
On the one hand, Elijah Stewart’s streakiness could pose a problem. On the other hand, Shaqquan Aaron proved capable of popping up with scoring blitzes while then-freshmen Melton, Jonah Mathews and even Nick Rakocevic provided key efforts.
Add Duke transfer Derryck Thornton to the mix and USC’s avenues for attack only grow.
However, what few mentioned in their rankings is how the Trojans won 26 games in 2016-17 without Bennie Boatwright on the court or fully healthy for a large chunk of the season.
In the end, the optimism surrounding USC should link most strongly back to Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, who was one of the most improved players in college basketball last season.
If they continue on their upward trajectory, the Trojans are certainly capable of living up to the hype.