2016-2017 Overall Rank: #29
Conference Rank: #4 Pac-12
It took a few years, but Coach Andy Enfield finally turned USC into a winner last season. The Trojans reached the NCAA Tournament after winning just five conference games the previous two seasons under Coach Enfield. There are some big holes to fill, but USC has been recruiting quite well and this is a program that can now reload instead of rebuild. Jordan McLaughlin should be one of the best guards in the Pac-12 again after averaging 13.4 points and 4.7 assists. McLaughlin is a very consistent shooter and a good defender too. For now, while the newcomers get acclimated, USC will go as far as McLaughlin can take them.
2015-16 Record: 21-13, 9-9
2015-16 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Andy Enfield
Coach Record: 44-54 at USC, 85-82 overall
The biggest losses are Nikola Jovanovic and Julian Jacobs. Jovanovic, a 6-11 forward, was second on the team with 12.1 points per game and first in rebounding with 7.0. Jacobs was a very versatile guard who did a lot for the Trojans. He averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Losing those two will hurt, but part-time starter Katin Reinhardt and reserve Darion Clark are also gone. Add in Malik Marquetti, Malik Martin and Strahinj Gavrilovic and USC has no choice but to rely heavily on their big group of newcomers.
There are a total of seven eligible newcomers and Coach Enfield needs at least one starter and a lot of depth from this group. Shaqquan Aaron, Charles Buggs and Kurt Karis all have Division I experience. Aaron was a big time recruit coming out of high school and spent one season with Louisville. After sitting last season and not playing much with the Cardinals, the 6-7 wing is finally ready to show what he can really do. And he will get every opportunity to do so. Buggs, a graduate transfer from Minnesota, averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds with the Golden Gophers last season. He can play either forward spot and picking up a player with size and experience will be very important for the Trojans. Karis is a walk-on who spent two seasons at Chicago State. The four incoming freshmen will battle for playing time too. Jonah Mathews is a very good shooter and could be the first guard off of the bench. De’Anthony Melton should earn a spot in the rotation because of his defensive abilities. The frontcourt will need Nick Rakocevic to play some minutes right away, especially since athletic forward Harrison Henderson likely needs some time to bulk up his 6-10, 220 pound frame.
Who to Watch:
Including McLaughlin, the Trojans return just four players who saw any significant action last year. Elijah Stewart will join McLaughlin in the backcourt. The 6-5 wing had some great games last year, but faded at the end of the season. He averaged 9.8 points though and connected on 42.9 percent of his 140 three-point attempts. Bennie Boatwright is a good shooter too. Despite his 6-10 frame, Boatwright plays like a guard and is a very effective power forward who can stretch the defense with his outside shooting. He averaged 11.5 points per game last season, but it will be on the other end of the floor where Boatwright will need to step up his game. He averaged 5.2 rebounds per game last season and that number will have to increase now that Jovanovic is gone. Chimezie Metu will feel the burden of replacing Jovanovic even more. The promising 6-11 sophomore was relatively productive off of the bench as a freshman, averaging 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds, yet he will be asked to do much more this time around. Metu is a superb athlete as he showed on occasion last year, and with a little consistency and polishing, he will be a dangerous player in the Pac-12.
Coach Enfield deserves a lot of credit for reloading. Not only are the incoming freshmen quite good, but the transfers will immediately help bolster the roster and leave far fewer questions than it would appear for a team that returns just four players. If McLaughlin can handle the point guard duties full time and keep scoring efficiently and players like Aaron live up to the hype, this will be a very dangerous team by the time Pac-12 play rolls around. There are major concerns on the glass still, but USC hopes having big wings in Stewart and Aaron will help take the pressure off of the frontcourt in that department. It is also worth noting that all four of the returning players were underclassmen last year and played a big part in getting this team to the NCAA Tournament. With a year of experience under their belt, all four should be ready to do even more and get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Jordan McLaughlin, Junior, Guard, 13.4 points per game
Elijah Stewart, Junior, Guard, 9.8 points per game
Shaqquan Aaron, Sophomore, Guard, DNP last season
Bennie Boatwright, Sophomore, Forward, 11.5 points per game
Chimezie Metu, Sophomore, Forward, 6.4 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 80.5 (19th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 74.6 (245, 9)
Field-Goal Percentage: 46.0 (68, 4)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.7 (83, 3)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.8 (96, 2)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 38.7 (21, 2)
Free-Throw Percentage: 67.6 (259, 10)
Rebound Margin: 1.7 (133, 7)
Assists Per Game: 14.8 (80, 3)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.2 (129, 5)
Madness 2017 NBA Draft Rankings:
#19 Bennie Boatright
#52 Chimezie Metu
Madness 2016 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#93 Jonah Mathews
#132 De'Anthony Melton