Monday, September 1, 2008

USC: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 21-12, 11-7 Pac-10 (t-3rd)

Key Losses: OJ Mayo (20.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.3 apg), Davon Jefferson (12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Angelo Johnson (4.5 ppg, 2.1 apg)

Key Returnees: Taj Gibson (10.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.6 bpg), Dwight Lewis (10.8 ppg), Daniel Hackett (8.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.2 apg)

Newcomers: Demar Derozan, Percy Miller, Donte Smith, Marcus Johnson, Alex Stephenson, Leonard Washington, Nikola Vucevic

USC lost their top two scorers from 2007-08 to the NBA Draft (OJ Mayo and Davon Jefferson), but may be a better team now mainly because they will be deeper. Their leading returning scorer is Taj Gibson, a 6'9" power forward who actually had a less-productive sophomore year than he did as a freshman (down from 12.2 ppg and 8.7 rpg). Although he is very thin (220 lb), Gibson is long and has an effective finesse game around the basket. He is also a very good defender (2.6 bpg). The drop in production is worrisome, although it may be a result of OJ Mayo dominating the ball (although, Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young did the same thing). The biggest addition to their front court is Alex Stephenson, a 6'9" transfer from UNC (he is still waiting to hear from the NCAA on whether or not he will be eligible for this year. His father is sick which is why he transferred out of Chapel Hill, and it appears as if he will be allowed to play). Stephenson only played about 14 mpg for the Tar Heels, but he is strong and athletic and will complement Gibson well down low. Also in the mix will be 6'10" sophomore Keith Wilkinson, 6'10" freshman Nikola Vucevic, and 6'7" freshman Leonard Washington.

The Trojans will be loaded on the perimeter. The first guy you have to mention is freshman Demar Derozan, a consensus top five recruit in the country. Derozan is a phenomenal athlete known for his highlight reel dunks (at the 2:15 mark he goes 1-on-5 and dunks on a whole team, definite must watch). The rest of his game has been improving, but right now he is much better in the open court than he is in a set offense (he is drawing a lot of comparisons to Vince Carter at the same age). Marcus Johnson, another athletic wing, will become eligible after transferring from UConn and should see some quality minutes.

USC also returns two starters from last year's back court, Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis. Hackett is the type of player coaches love (coincidence that he is a coach's son?), meaning he can do a little bit of everything. With Angelo Johnson transferring to South Alabama, Hackett looks like he may get the nod as the primary ball-handler. Lewis is more of a scorer, whose strength is his mid-range game. Donte Smith, a 5'11" JuCo transfer, will challenge for minutes at the point, as he was fairly highly recruited. The last addition to the Trojans back court is Percy Miller, aka Lil' Romeo. He probably won't see many minutes, but that is worth a mention.

Outlook: The Pac-10 lost a lot in the draft and is wide open after UCLA. USC has a lot of talent, but there are still some question marks. Will Stephenson be eligible? Who will run the point? Can anyone shoot? Which Taj Gibson shows up this year? Tim Floyd is an excellent coach, but those are a lot of ifs to overcome - and to predict. I can see this team missing the NCAA's, but I can also see them reaching the second weekend, depending on if they catch some breaks.

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