Top 68 Team Previews: #68 USC Trojans
Jio Fontan is ready for a breakout season for the Trojans. (Icon SMI)
By Robb Jacobson
Sunday, July 03, 2011
Last Season: 19-15 (10-8)
Key Losses: Alex Stepheson, Nikola Vucevic, Marcus Simmons, Bryce Jones
Head Coach: Kevin O'Neill
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Maurice Jones 5-7 So.
SG: Jio Fontan 6-0 Sr.
SF: Garrett Jackson 6-7 So.
PF: Aaron Fuller 6-6 Sr.
C: DeWayne Dedmon 7-0 So.
Key Reserves: Byron Wesley 6-5 Fr. SF, Curtis Washington 6-10 So. PF, James Blasczyk 7-1 Fr. C, Alexis Moore 6-2 Fr. PG
The Trojans represent warriors, battle ready men of ancient times capable of conquering any foe and withstanding a barrage from any force. Considering the trials they'll face this year, even the ancient Trojans would be lucky to find success.
The Trojans were dealt a serious blow when junior Nikola Vucevic opted to bypass his senior season at USC in favor of entering the NBA Draft. With 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game last season, Vucevic's early departure leaves the Trojans lacking in height, power and standout talent.
After losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament to the surprisingly powerful VCU Rams, who made it to the Final Four, USC also lost senior Alex Stepheson. For a team hoping to move farther into the tournament, the Trojans seem to be moving in the wrong direction.
Guards Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones are expected to lead the team with their experience and ability to put points on the board. Fontan needs work on his turnover rate, but has exceptional accuracy in the paint; add to it Jones's speed and ability to drive low to the basket, and you have the backbone of USC basketball for the 2011-12 season.
Taking a page from the double-crossing ancient Trojans, the team's top recruit from 2010, Bryce Jones, abandoned USC after less than one year, transferring to USC rival UNLV. This leaves a gap in the backcourt. The 5-foot-7 Jones, inexperienced Alexis Moore and Fontan might be forced to rotate between the two guard positions, which could prove difficult if they want to avoid having two out of their only three experienced players (Aaron Fuller, Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones) on the bench at the same time.
Seeing less than 11 minutes per game of playing time last season, Garrett Jackson should be slotted to step up in the forward position to help fill the gap that Vucevic and Stepheson left. Averaging little better than one field goal per game, Jackson will be asked to make up for a player who averaged six times that. Trying to fit in those shoes would be like asking a gymnast to fit into Ronald McDonald's big, red submarine sneakers.
Scrambling for height, the Trojans expect Antelope Valley College transfer DeWayne Dedmon and his 7-foot frame to fill the center position after averaging 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game at AVC. Freshman James Blasczyk also shows potential to help at the position, but Dedmon has a slight edge to the starting role after practicing with the team late last season.
USC did find some help after Aaron Fuller joined the squad after transferring from Iowa. Redshirting alongside Dedmon last year, Fuller brings experience, speed, and an ability to score with either hand. Leading Iowa with 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, Fuller stands out as the team's greatest recruit and a player who can make immediate impact to the game.
The team isn't expected to have a standout year, not without any of ESPN's top 100 recruits, and so the critical objective will be to train the young talent and put some experience under their belts. Sophomore Curtis Washington saw no action as a freshman last year and would have filled into the power forward position if Fuller hadn't brought so much experience to the team.
With players continually abandoning the team, only three players with significant experience, and about as much depth as a puddle of water, the Trojans will have their work cut out for them if they want to make it to the NCAA tournament in March.