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Pac-10 Men's Basketball Preview: USC Trojans

TwistNHook:  Let's takea  look at USC.  What have they done this year?  Oh, that's right.

Beat Texas:

Well, the Trojans are enjoying a two-game winning streak, including a 73-56 victory over 19th-ranked Texas.

Led by a career-high 24-point effort by forward-center Nikola Vucevic, 16 points of which helped the Trojans go into halftime with an 8-point lead, USC was able to temper the high-powered Longhorns attack.

Texas' leading scorer at 20.0 points per game, Jordan Hamilton, was limited to just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, while the Longhorns as a team shot just 32.1 percent for the game.


Triple Le Sigh.  

Avinash:  USC looks like an inconsistent squad. They've also lost to Rider at home and got blown out by TCU in Dallas.  They will be in a lot of games because of their excellent defense, but their offensive struggles will cause them problems this season.

The Trojans have a seven man lineup headed by Vucevic and Maurice Jones, and they're both logging a LOT of minutes. But they're getting a lot of relief with the arrival of Jio Fontan.

Jio Fontan -- this year's version of [Mike] Gerrity -- becomes eligible on Saturday when USC plays at Kansas, and while the Fordham transfer's debut is being overshadowed by Josh Selby's, Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill is pretty fired up about it. 

"He's our best player," O'Neill said. "He's our best leader. He's our best scorer. He's our best defender. He's our best passer. He's our best guard. He's our best player." 

So... O'Neill likes his new point guard. Fontan certainly was good as a freshman at Fordham averaging 15.3 points and 4.7 assists before leaving after five games into his sophomore season and deciding on USC

O'Neill said if Fontan had been eligible at the start of the season, the 6-4 Trojans who've lost to Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and TCU would probably be 9-1 or 8-2. 



Berkelium97:  It's tough to tell how good this USC squad is this year.  I was impressed with them last year until they lost their last five games, which dropped them to fifth in the conference standings.  They notched the upset over Texas, but also lost to Rider and Bradley.  I don't even know which region of the country those schools are in.  We should know more about how good USC really is if the Trojans are competitive in their upcoming games against Kansas and Tennessee.  If they get blown out (and top things off with a loss to Lehigh), then they might be destined for a season similar to UCLA's football season: mediocrity after a seemingly impressive win over Texas.

NorCalNick:  I feel like O'Neill hyped up Gerrity in the same way last year.  And sure, he turned out to be a valuable contributing player, but hardly the best player on the team.  If Fontan is actually as good as O'Neill says (and better that Vucevic?  Really?) then USC seriously scares me.

I will say this:  Cal's games this year against USC may be borderline unwatchable.  Like bad Big 10 basketball.  Losing teams scoring in the 40s.  Bad shots, lots of turnovers, bodies all over the floor.  I can't say I'm looking forward to it.  Randle, Christopher, Robertson and Boykin really spoiled us last year.

TwistNHook:  Keep an eye out fora new comer to the USC team:  

Jio Fontan.


 O'Neill envisions Fontan as a shooting guard paired with freshman point guard Maurice Jones.

"This is the first time in my life I've been off the ball," Fontan said.

O'Neill said it doesn't matter because both players will bring the ball up the court. Wherever Fontan plays, his teammates are excited.

"It's going to be a big help, even better than last year when (point guard) Mike Gerrity became eligible," forward Nikola Vucevic said. "He can create shots for us. He can spread the floor. He's been a great leader and talks a lot and is loud."

Said freshman guard Bryce Jones: "We'll be a faster team. When (Jones) gets tired, Jio can take over at point guard."

Fontan embraced the role of leader even when he redshirted and said he will be vocal on and off the court.

"I want to change the personality of the team," he said.

O'Neill just wants another impact player. USC is only 6-4 with disappointing losses to Rider and Bradley. Fontan will play three games before USC enters Pacific-10 Conference play.





Kodiak:  About all I know is that they play tough defense.

Where the scoring is going to come from is unknown.  Vucevic is probably their most annoying multi-threat player.  Stephenson played pretty well for them after transferring from North Carolina last year.  Otherwise, they're unsettled with their PG and perimeter players.  Hard to say where they're going to end up.  Like us, they have solid post players but are uncertain at the wing and point.

They had a good recruiting class.  But we've seen first-hand how most frosh struggle early, no matter how touted.

Probably a pick'em match-up at home, and give them the edge down in LA.

Okay.  sc officially scares me.  KU needed to hit a go-ahead 3 with about 20 seconds to play to pull out the win at home.

Fontan plays a little out of control, but he's quick and strong.  Pretty impressive that he was able to consistently penetrate against KU's blue chip athletes.  It didn't look they had much outside shooting early, but then Smith hits 5/7 from 3.  Vucevic is kind of lumbering, but he's clever with the ball, a good passer, shoots 3's, and can score in the post with either hand.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is the mental toughness sc showed.  They were down by 14 midway in the 1st half, and slowly battled back with tough D and opportunistic O.  The Trojan guards/wings are very athletic, and came up with a lot of steals playing tough on the ball defense.

I'm downgrading our series against them from "maybe we steal one" to "wince."


TwistNHook:  Where do you all see USC ending up in the Pac10?


Kodiak:  Where do you all see USC ending up in the Pac10?


NorCalNick:  Their inside talent, performance vs. Kansas and the Pac-10's weakness is making me think they'll finish 4th or 5th, but much of that is based on Fontan living up to the hype.


Avinash:   I don't know. Despite the way they played against Kansas, this is still a truly inconsistent offense. Even with Fontan, I'd say 5th-6th place. It's hard to win with just defense in the college level.


Okay, so USC just beat Tennessee. Maybe it's time to upgrade them to third or fourth.

"If you had told me we'd lost to KU by a possession and we'd win here, I wouldn't have believed it when we scheduled this," O'Neill said.

Both games were close because of junior guard Jio Fontan, who became eligible for the Kansas game after sitting out a year in accordance with NCAAtransfer rules.

Against Tennessee, he scored 13 points, teaming with guards Maurice Jones (15 points), Bryce Jones (11 points) and Smith (six points) to surprise the Volunteers with an effective outside game.

Fontan said that was the plan.

"One thing that threw those guys off was we switched our strategy up," he said.

Though USC didn't get as much as usual from its big men, including just four points and one rebound from junior forward Nikola Vucevic, who had been averaging 16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds, it did capitalize on Tennessee's mistakes. In fact, in the points-off-turnovers category, USC held a 27-10 advantage.



OhioBear:  Okay, so USC just beat Tennessee.

I think the Trojans did that last year. 

Avinash:  But not in Knoxville! PANIC!