The USC Trojans basketball team was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 Conference by the media in the pre-season poll released earlier today. Coach Kevin O'Neill and sophomore guard Maurice Jones discussed the team's season outlook at the Pac-12 Basketball media day today.
The Trojans finished tied for fourth in the conference last season and received one of the last at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, losing in one of the play-in games in the expanded 68 team field. From that team the Trojans lost several starters, including leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, second in the conference in rebounding behind Vucevic.
USC was banking on a strong backcourt this season featuring Jones and senior Jio Fontan, the top two scorers returning to the team. However, those hopes suffered a major setback when Fontan tore his ACL during the team's summer exhibition trip to Brazil and was lost for the season. When asked how he would replace Fontan, O'Neill responded matter-of-factly, "We can't".
Without Fontan, Jones is one of only two returning players to see more than 11 minutes of court time - total - last season. During his opening remarks to the media, coach O'Neill said of Jones "he is playing 40 minutes a game this year, because he's going to have to." Sophomore forward Garrett Jackson is the other holdover from last year's rotation.
Coming off recent NCAA sanctions which caused them to miss two full recruiting classes, USC will rely heavily on transfers this year, both from the JuCo ranks and from other programs. This group features a pair of seven footers, Dewayne Dedmon from Antelope Valley College and James Blasczyk from Texas A&M, as well as Iowa transfer Aaron Fuller, a junior forward. The good news is that Dedmon and Fuller practiced with the team last year, so although they are new to the active roster, they are not new to the program.
Considering how little experience this team has, it's perhaps surprising that they were picked as high as seventh in the conference. But if the newcomers can come together under Jones' leadership, the Trojans could surprise some people this season.