2011/2012 Pac-12 Preview: USC

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by: John Chase

USC is coming off a tipsy turvy year. USC was part of the 8 teams who had to play their way into the NCAA tournament where they lost to the miracle VCU team who shocked college basketball like Butler last season. USC finished 19-15 overall and 10-8 in conference, one game back from UW.

Unfortunately for USC, the Trojans look to be taking a huge step backwards after graduating 4 seniors and junior, Nikola Vucevic. Alex Stephenson and Nikola Vucevic combined for 27 points and 20 rebounds a game in what was one of the best frontcourt duos in the nation. Stephenson was .2 points and .8 rebounds from averaging a double-double along with Vucevic.

After losing so much size, experience, and talent the Trojans will have a lot of work to do, especially in the frontcourt. Their backcourt was looking fairly solid until Jio Fontan, last season’s second leading scorer, blew out his knee during their Brazilian tour. He had season ending surgery and will not return until 2012-2013.

The Trojans will likely be without Curtis Washington this season as he suffered a torn labrum (shoulder injury). The Trojans’ new 7 foot center, Dwayne Dedmon, suffered a broken hand in mid October that has kept his practice limited for the past few weeks (common recovery time is 2-3 weeks for the injury he suffered, so he should be back to full mobility in his hand quite soon).

As you can see its been a rough off season for USC, so much so that during the Pac-12 media day Trojan coach, Kevin O’Neil, made this statement: “If Mo gets hurt we can’t really play the game. … We’d have to start a freshman point guard and that would be a disaster. … I need him (Jones) to do more all the time. … His impact on our team is unbelievable. If he’s in trouble or gets hurt, don’t come to our games because it will be ugly.”

Key Losses:

  • Alex Stephenson 6-10 250lb – A big man with a big game. The second best rebounder in the conference behind teammate Nikola Vucevic, Stephenson was a big, talented body who helped USC battle their way to the NCAA. Stephenson had a strong inside game, but his shooting from range struggled a bit in comparison to his counterpart.
  • Nikola Vucevic 6-10 240lb – A top prospect in the Pac-10, Vucevic was drafted with the 16th overall pick in the NBA draft. He averaged 17 points and over 10 boards per game. Dominating is the only way to describe him. He could push his weight around inside and drop the long ball every now and then. USC will be missing him greatly.
  • Jio Fontan 6-0 170lb – Fontan has a terrific junior season. Second in scoring at 11 ppg and first on the team with 4 assists per game, Fontan was the guard they needed after losing a lot of backcourt talent the previous seasons. He was going to be the saving grace for the Trojan until his knee injury. He’ll be back next season.

Incoming Freshmen:

  • Alexis Moore 6-2 180lb – Moore adds some much needed depth at the PG position. He is a solid passer who has been developing his shooting game with relative success. His biggest problems lie in his form when passing and a tendency to take too many shots. Moore will have to quickly learn how to play at the collegiate level because Maurice Jones is going to need a hand.
  • Byron Wesley 6-5 210lb – Wesley will be a terrific 2/3 for the Trojans if he can add a 3 point shot to his arsenal. He has a solid mid-range game that is tough to stop with his strength and height. He strikes me as a less talented, but stronger Terrence Ross. Regardless, the backcourt is USC’s weak point Wesley could find himself getting immediate play time.Haven’t heard or seen much about his defensive skills so I can’t comment on what type of impact he could have there, but at 210lbs he can bang with the best of them on the outside.

USC also added two JC transfers in 7-1 260lb,  James Blasczyk, and 6-3 180lb, Greg Allen. Both players could bring in much needed experience to an underdeveloped team.

Returning Players:

  • Maurice Jones 5-7 155lb
  • Tyler Sugiyama 5-10 150lb
  • Daniel Munoz 5-10 175lb
  • Eric Strangis 6-4 190lb
  • Daniel Dragovic 6-5 195lb
  • Aaron Fuller 6-6 235lb
  • Garrett Jackson 6-6 225lb
  • Evan Smith 6-7 225lb
  • Curtis Washington 6-10 245lb

Not a whole lot of big name talent coming back for USC. Like O’Neill said, if Maurice gets hurt then the Trojans are in for a world of hurt. The talent coming in doesn’t come close to replacing the talent going out and honestly, the talent remaining is far from spectacular with all the injuries they have sustained. That being said, USC should not be the worst team in conference. They have enough size and “veteran” players win against teams like Utah and ASU, maybe even WSU.

Predicted Starting Line-Up:

G – Maurice Jones 5-7 155lb
G – Alexis Moore 6-2 180lb
G – Byron Wesley 6-5 210
F – Aaron Fuller 6-6 235 lb
F – Dewayne Dedmon 7-0 255lb

Look at that line-up. Recognize anyone from last season? Jones is the only player who had an impact last season for USC at nearly 10 points and over 3 assists per game. Jackson played in all but one game for USC, though he only averaged 3 points.

What To Expect:

USC is going to have to do all it can to keep its guards healthy as well as find a way to get the frontcourt developing. Not a lot of talent to be seen here and they’ll be scrapping for every win they can get. USC has a tough match-up as their last non-conference game against Kansas. They also face Georgia (who UW beat in the NCAA last season) and New Mexico (who UW beat two season ago in the NCAA). USC will have a losing record and finish in the bottom four of the conference. I’d be surprised if they finished higher than 8th. Utah will keep USC out of the basement, but not far from it. Keep your heads up Trojan fans. There is always football to look forward to.