USC men’s basketball rides year of big growth into the postseason
Enfield says this is the most improved Trojans team he’s had from start to finish going into Pac-12 Tournament play
Adam Grosbard (OC Register) — LOS ANGELES — Andy Enfield knew he had two players he could rely on entering this basketball season. Beyond Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson, every Trojan either played a reserve or benchwarmer role the previous year or was still in high school.
It was difficult to predict what this USC season had in store, especially after a season-opening loss to Enfield’s old school, Florida Gulf Coast. A rebuild felt like the most likely outcome, given all the unknowns.
But after a mop-up role as a freshman, Kobe Johnson led the Pac-12 in steals and made the conference’s All-Defense team as a sophomore. Joshua Morgan also earned All-Defense honors in his first year as a starter, leading the conference in blocks.
Reese Dixon-Waters took an increased role and earned Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year.
And guard Tre White rounded into his starting role and made the league’s All-Freshman team. And that’s not to mention freshmen like Kijani Wright and Oziyah Sellers earning playing time late in the season.
“This is probably the most improved team I’ve had at USC from beginning of the year to the end,” Enfield said.
This group of previously untested Trojans will face its biggest challenge this week as USC begins postseason play, starting Thursday with the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals in Las Vegas.
But true to his buoyant form, White is more exhilarated by the prospect than intimidated.
“This is still not hitting me. This is a dream come true,” White said, beaming. “It’s crazy. Family members I haven’t talked to in years hitting me like, ‘Good luck in March Madness, we’ll be watching.’ Like, oh, this is really that.”
This is the type of confidence Enfield has tried to instill in White. With USC in desperate need of a third scorer behind Ellis and Peterson, Enfield has encouraged White not to pass up good looks and to shake off misses and remain ready for the next opportunity.
“I think it’s trust and confidence in us. Some coaches try to control every little narrative. But I feel like with Coach Andy, he gives us guidelines but he lets us be free,” White said. “I feel like that’s how we all got better (this) year. He doesn’t take our confidence away.”
Sometimes creating confidence in a young player can be trickier. Wright got early playing time for the Trojans as a backup to Morgan, but he lost his spot in the rotation in the middle of the season as it was clear the freshman was not ready.
That could have had a devastating impact on the mental development of a young player. But Enfield and his staff tried to stay positive with him even when relegating him to the bench.
“We said, ‘Look, you got to be better in these areas.’ We were very specific with him: You have to be a better rebounder, you have to be a better defender,” Enfield said. “And he took that to heart, has really improved. He’s a tremendous worker and has such a positive attitude.”
All these improvements have the Trojans (22-9) in a position that was difficult to predict in November. As the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, a win against sixth-seeded Arizona State (21-11) on Thursday night likely cements USC’s spot in the 68-team NCAA Tournament.
The Trojans are facing ASU for the second game in a row after the Sun Devils eliminated 11th-seeded Oregon State, 63-57, late Wednesday night to keep themselves firmly on the bubble. USC defeated ASU, 77-69, in Tempe in January then hung on for a 68-65 win on Saturday night at the Galen Center.
Dixon-Waters missed practice Tuesday with illness but is expected to travel to Vegas. Center Vincent Iwuchukwu (back) will be a game-time decision Thursday. So it’s possible the Trojans are a little undermanned.
But compared to a few months ago, USC has young players ready to step up when called upon.
USC (22-9) VS. ARIZONA STATE (21-11)
Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal; Thursday, 8:30 p.m.; T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas; TV/radio: ESPN, 790 AM
Slightly off topic >>>>> Golf Channel… week by week ….Spending more and more time ( somewhat) on USC’s Justin Suh (currently 3rd on the Leaderboard at TPC ) .Can he keep staying on the Top of Leaderboards even thru …….say ……The Masters in a few weeks ? …..Fight On !
Stewart Mandel’s (The Athletic) top 25 college football head coaches: Has Kirby Smart caught Nick Saban? 1a. Nick Saban, Alabama (2022 rank: No. 1) 1b. Kirby Smart, Georgia (2022: No. 3) 3. Dabo Swinney, Clemson (2022: No. 2) 4. Brian Kelly, LSU (2022: No. 4) 5. Lincoln Riley, USC (2022: No. 6): Arguably no other coach could have pulled off the enormous culture change/turnaround Riley did in Year 1 at USC, overhauling a 4-8 roster, going 11-3 and producing his third Heisman quarterback in six seasons (Caleb Williams). USC became must-see TV for the first time in ages. But No. 5 could be his ceiling on this list… Read more »
How can Smart be tied with Saban. Yes he is a good coach, but Saban has proven he is the GOAT. When Smart approaches what Saban has done then start to talk about 1a and 1b. Saban should be #0, not even in the discussion with everyone else. Stewart needs to rethink.
Notice the comment after LR – it about his D. LR has stated that this problem will be fixed. My guess is Grinch has a very very short rope this season. If SC loses three critical games in which it scores 40 or more points, I doubt Grinch is around. He has much better talent this year than last. The issue is what he and his staff do with it.
USC football led the nation in turnover margin (+22; 1.57 avg) in 2022
Matt Zemek (Yahoo.com) — “With USC not playing ORE ST, the Trojans might fall no more than two or three spots on the seed list if they lose to ASU. That’s it. They aren’t going to fall six spots purely based on a possible loss to ASU.
“USC would need to get atrocious luck on the bubble — meaning that every competing bubble team wins multiple games — to somehow miss the field of 68 at this point…”
Tonight’s game against ASU will heavily depend on if Drew Peterson shows up. He and Boogie play well and we stay out of foul trouble and we should roll on ASU. Otherwise, it will be a tight game like last Saturday.