2008-09 USC Basketball Preview: #21
Overall Rank: #21
Conference Rank: #3 Pac-10
2007-08: 21-12, 11-7, 3rd
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
The Bruins officially have some competition for the dominance of the Southland. USC lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost O.J. Mayo, but Coach Tim Floyd is still building a winner. The talent level can nearly match that of UCLA, but the Trojans still need some time before they will be considered an elite program year in and year out.
Mayo led the team with 20.7 points and 3.3 assists. The Trojans will find it difficult to replace that production and need to find a new go-to-scorer on the perimeter, but there are plenty of options. Due to the higher profile departures, the transfer of Angelo Johnson is often overlooked, but the point guard started 11 games last year and would have played a vital role off the bench. He is heading to Southern Miss instead. The frontcourt has some big losses of their own. Davon Jefferson ranked second on the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. He was the big guy who could hit the mid-range jumper and stretch out the opposing defense. RouSean Cromwell is also gone after averaging 7.9 minutes per game last season.
USC needs to find some depth on the perimeter and they hope junior college transfer Donte Smith and UConn transfer Marcus Johnson will do the job. Smith, a 5-11 sophomore, is a solid floor leader and could end up in the starting lineup sooner or later. Even if he does come off the bench, he will have plenty of minutes available with the transfer of Johnson. The Trojans just need him to run the show and keep the scorers happy, but Smith has great range on his shot and could emerge as one of those scorers as well. Johnson will be eligible at the end of the first semester and averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Huskies during the 2006-2007 season. The 6-6 wing can do some scoring, but it is his shut down defense that will earn him minutes in Los Angeles. Those two are the experienced options, but DeMar DeRozan, James Dunleavy and Percy Miller will add more depth. DeRozan will add more than simply depth. The 6-6 swingman was ranked among the top recruits in this class by most pundits and is the likely candidate to take over a bulk of the scoring load left behind by Mayo. DeRozan does a great job attacking the basket and can score in bunches. He can replace Mayo’s scoring, not to mention some of Jefferson’s rebounding, but he will probably follow Mayo to the NBA after one season too. Depth is needed up front as well and Mamadou Diarra, Nikola Vucevic and Leonard Washington will do just fine. At 6-7 and 230 pounds Washington has the size and strength to make an impact as a freshman. He is a tough rebounder and a decent scorer in the paint and could even find himself a starting job at the power forward spot.
Who to Watch:
There is not much experience returning to the backcourt. However, Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis are two of the best in the conference. Hackett does everything quite well and should be the starting point guard unless Smith performs well. And even in that case Hackett is too valuable to take out of the starting lineup. Lewis is the scorer. The 6-5 wing averaged 10.8 points per game as a sophomore and that number should go up quite a bit without Mayo taking away his shots. Lewis needs to prove that he can hit the three-pointer consistently, but he will definitely get plenty of buckets around the rim. But it is that lack of three-point shooting that can hurt this team.
Taj Gibson is an underappreciated center. At 6-9 and 255 pounds he has a nice blend of size and athleticism. He is a solid rebounder, a more than capable scorer in the paint and one of the conference’s best shot blockers. Finding somebody to replace Jefferson at the four spot is a bigger issue. Kasey Cunningham is back from a knee injury and Keith Wilkinson has a ton of experience, but the Trojans will miss Jefferson’s ability to stretch out the defense and hit the glass.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Daniel Hackett, Junior, Guard, 8.6 points per game
Dwight Lewis, Junior, Guard, 10.8 points per game
Demar DeRozan, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Kasey Cunningham, Sophomore, Forward, 2.7 points per game
Taj Gibson, Junior, Forward, 10.8 points per game