Famed Pac-12 columnist Jon Wilner went from keeping USC basketball out of his preseason top 25 projections for the 2022-2023 season to bumping them up all the way to No. 17 in his early projections. He has them as the third-highest ranked Pac-12 team.
That means that just UCLA (9th) and Oregon (14th) are ranked higher than SC, and Arizona is ranked lower (20th). It's unclear as to why he has Oregon above USC, as USC at least made the NCAA Tournament this year and just barely lost to an Elite Eight team, as opposed to an Oregon team that didn't even make it to the tournament.
That being said, the difference appears to be the transfer portal. Wilner mentioned the portal in his response to why he moved Oregon up to 14th, three spots ahead of where he bumped USC up to:
"The Ducks jumped a few spots thanks to the return of point guard Will Richardson and a group of newcomers that includes both premium recruits and impact transfers (for example: guard Jermaine Couisnard, who led South Carolina in scoring). Look for Oregon to return to the NCAAs after an unexpected absence."- Jon Wilner, Pac-12 Columnist
While USC's No. 9 ranked recruiting class is MUCH better than Oregon's 16th, Oregon HAS brought in a four-star transfer in Couisnard. USC hasn't brought in any high-impact transfers like that, or any transfers at all, for 2022.
SC is bringing in a five-star recruit and two four-stars, where as Oregon is welcoming just one four-star and one five-star. The Trojans' recruiting certainly was better, but Wilner is clearly buying the proven experience Couisnard brings to the table. It's understandable--but not enough to have them jump USC, though.
USC basketball is returning enough to deserve more respect.
While USC basketball is losing their best player from last season in Isaiah Mobley, they still return their other 2022 All-Pac 12 First-Team selection in Drew Peterson, and their other starting guard in Boogie Ellis. (Ellis was an Honorable Mention for the All-Pac 12 team.)
They aren't losing enough to be ranked below a non-NCAA Tournament team from this past year who's only bringing in two blue-chippers in recruiting. One big transfer move doesn't catapult them ahead.
That being said, it was still awesome to see Wilner rank SC ahead of 2022 Pac-12 Champion Arizona. Wilner is still giving USC credit for what should be a good season next year.
While he has them puzzlingly lower than the Ducks, he still clearly likes SC in ranking them in the top 17 (an improvement over last year) despite Mobley leaving for the NBA Draft. Besides, he does consider them legit contenders in the conference.
"We were skeptical of USC's prospects until the final days before the NBA stay-or-go deadline, when two starters, guard Boogie Ellis and wing Drew Peterson, decided to stay. Count the Trojans as a legitimate contender in the Pac-12."- Jon Wilner, Pac 12 Columnist
He still sees SC bringing back their starting backcourt and knows they can compete in this conference. Overall, he does back SC this year and it's great to see him giving them some props this early in the offseason.