A Sneak Peek at the 2009-2010 USC Hoops Team


Towards the end of USC’s demoralizing loss to Stanford on the gridiron this past Saturday, I overheard a Stanford fan reminding my fellow classmates and I that our team “sucks.” While I may beg to differ that a 7-3 team presently ranked 21st in the Associated Press Top 25 is a dismal squad, I do feel that the words “mediocre” and “underachieving” are certainly fitting at this point in the season. However, in the end, does it really even matter? We all know that USC is a basketball school and that this whole football thing is simply something to occupy the attention spans of alumni, students, and everyday fans, until the hoops team hits the hardwood in mid-November.

Okay, so bad jokes and poor use of sarcasm aside, the USC Trojans men’s basketball team kicks off its season this Tuesday at home against UC Riverside. The game marks the first regular season of the Kevin O’Neill era, and with 24 hours until tipoff, I felt that now was the most appropriate team to preview this year’s rag-tag bunch. It could be an ugly year, but at the same time, there is still reason to be cautiously optimistic. For whatever it’s worth, Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis went out on a limb by calling USC his sleeper team west of the Mississippi River. It’s hard to know what to expect this year, but nevertheless, I’ll try to give you some idea of what to look for.

Last year’s record: 22-13, 9-9 Pac 10

2009-10’s toughest games: Texas, California, UCLA, Washington

Main attraction: In a down year for the Pac-10 as a whole, could the Trojans finish in the top half of the conference despite an overhauled roster? If so, count on a big year from senior guard Dwight Lewis.

Three things of note:

  1. Kid Euro. One of the more intriguing players on this year’s team is the talented sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic, who is expected to be a major factor on both ends of the court for the Trojans despite limited playing time as a freshman just one year ago. Over the summer, Vucevic impressed the USC coaching staff and basketball scouts across the globe with a strong performance at the U20 European Championships by averaging 15.5 points per game (10th overall), 10.8 rebounds per game (1st overall), and 1.9 blocks per game (1st overall). Coupling his strong play in Europe this summer and imposing 6’10” frame, all signs point to “Kid Euro” becoming one of the Pac-10’s more dominant big men this season. Provided he can remain healthy, he has all the abilities and skills necessary to become a force on the inside and potentially lead the Trojans to the postseason for the fourth straight season.
  2. Point Guard Play. Arguably the biggest question mark for the Trojans, outside of overall depth, is the point guard position. Presently, the roster is rather thin of experienced point guards, and at this point, the starter is the 5’11” Donte Smith, who averaged just 14.4 minutes a game last season as the primary backup to Daniel Hackett. Now, he assumes full responsibility with Mike Gerrity, a senior transfer from Charlotte, serving as the number two option. However, the problem lies in the fact that Gerrity won’t be eligible to play until sometime in the second semester. In his absence, the Trojans will likely use walk-on Ryan Wetherell, who has little to no playing experience, as the backup for Smith. If Smith struggles or is forced to sit out due to injury, head coach Kevin O’Neill could have some serious problems on hand.
  3. A Weak Pac-10. In most years, it would be easy to write off this USC team based on the simple fact that they lost their head coach, top players, and highly rated recruits. However, the fact that it looks to be a down for the Pac-10 makes it entirely possible for USC to finish in the upper-half of the conference. California and Washington are both presently ranked in the top 15, but outside of these two teams, no other squad is ranked anywhere near the polls. UCLA, Arizona, and Stanford, have all lost key players to the professional ranks, making it entirely possible for young teams such as Oregon State or even USC to have a strong showing this winter.

Doesn’t that Pac-10 tournament title seem like ages ago?

Last word: I’m not prepared to risk my reputation as a pundit (albeit: a lousy one) by calling upon the Trojans to win 20 games and reach the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season. However, I do believe that this team is capable of surprising a lot of the experts over at ESPN (the ex-players and recently fired coaches) by playing a hard-nosed brand of basketball that places them in a position to win some games they probably have no business doing so. Somewhere around the 15-16 win mark is a realistic goal for this team considering they have a solid starting five and face a relatively soft schedule in comparison to the years past. Provided, they can remain injury free and the players continue to progress as the year moves along, than it would appear in the realm of possibility for O’Neill’s bunch to end up with a postseason birth to the NIT. Expecting anything more would simply be unreasonable.