With the loss of big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson, expectations were not too high for the Trojans this season, and that was before arguably the team's best player Jio Fontan went down with a season-ending knee injury during an exhibition in Brazil.
The Pac-12 media voted USC as the seventh best team in the Pac-12, but so far it appears the Trojans will struggle to meet those expectations. Head coach Kevin O'Neill, who served as the interim head coach at Arizona during the 2007-08 season, is in his third year with the program. His team has dropped its first three Pac-12 contests, including a 62-53 loss to a depleted Arizona State team Thursday night, and seven of its last eight overall.
With the loss of Fontan, 5-foot-7, 155-pound sophomore Maurice Jones is the team's primary option. In 38.8 minutes per game, Jones is averaging a team best 14.3 points per game to go along with 3.8 assists. A 2010-11 All-Pac-10 Freshman Team selection, Jones is averaging nearly 14 shots per contest and is connecting on 35.2 percent of his attempts and 35.3 percent of his three-point tries.
If USC is going to remain competitive, it's going to need Jones to far exceed his scoring average and set his teammates up for easy shots. While Jones is a productive player, at this point in his career he's simply not the kind of player capable of carrying an offense by himself, thus the reason for USC's struggles through 16 games.
Redshirt junior Aaron Fuller is back on the floor after redshirting for the 2010-11 season following his transfer from Iowa, where he was a honorable mention All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Mesa, AZ native is the team's second best scorer at 11.4 points per game, and he's shooting a staggering 51.6 percent from the field this season.
Fuller is the team's leading rebounder with 6.4 boards per game, and in three Pac-12 games he's averaging nine points and five rebounds. Because he has yet to attempt a three-point shot this season, Fuller's offensive skill set is a little bit limited.
After Jones and Fuller, there is a significant drop off in scoring for the Trojans, as 7-foot, 255-pound sophomore DeWayne Dedmon is the team's third-leading scorer at 7.3 points per game. A transfer from Antelope Valley College, Dedmon is USC's second-leading rebounder with 5.4 boards per contest and is the team's most efficient shooter at 59 percent from the field.
To round out the starting lineup, O'Neill goes with a pair of freshman in 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard Byron Wesley and 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard Alexis Moore. Wesley, a three-star prospect and the 29th best small forward in the class of 2011, is averaging 6.7 points and 4.6 rebounds in 32.9 minutes per game.
Moore is slightly less productive, putting up just six points and 1.8 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game.
Junior James Blasczyk, a 7-foot-1, 260-pound center, gets the most minutes off the bench for the Trojans, but in 15 minutes per game he's averaging just 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds. Sophomore Garrett Jackson is a hold over from last year's team, but the 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward is putting up just 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 14.1 minutes per contest.
Arizona will be looking to avoid last year's result when it lost USC by a score of 65-57 as the nation's 10th ranked team. Losing to the Trojans this year would have far more disastrous implications for Sean Miller's team, who need to bounce back with a strong performance to gain some momentum back after a let down to UCLA.
The Pac-12 is filled with games like the one that UA is about to play: ones that will do virtually nothing to enhance its resume but will be a glaring blemish if it happens to lose. With a weekend series coming up against Oregon State and Oregon, the Wildcats need a strong effort and start to add wins to its conference record.