2002-03 Pac-10 Preview #7 - USC Trojans

<p class=txt> I don't believe anybody is more surprised than me that Coach Henry Bibby is back with the Trojans this year. I certainly thought he would go out with his excellent trio of Seniors, and enjoy the fact that the Trojans had made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances - something rarely done in `SC History.

Perhaps it was the 1st Round Loss to UNC-Wilmington (a game in which I sat on the sidelines which I can only describe as "surreal"), or maybe it was the challenge of rebuilding…but no matter the reason, Coach Bibby enters his 7th Season at the helm in Los Angeles. 

2000-01 saw USC coming off their best season in school history. They finished solid in the Pac-10, secured 24 wins, made it to the Great Eight of the NCAA tournament by beating Boston College and Kentucky, and made the final AP Poll. There run in the NCAA tournament was the second deepest of any Pac-10 team that year, and they missed the Final Four by an eyelash in dropping a hard fought battle to eventual National Champion, Duke. Last year was exactly the opposite…as 2001-02 saw `SC play quite well during the regular season, including a National Ranking throughout the Season, plus the Pac-10 Tournament Title. That win gave the Trojans a #4 Seed in the South Bracket, facing the aforementioned UNC - Wilmington Seahawks. The rest is history, and that afternoon contest saw the last collegiate games of `SC warriors Sam Clancy, David Bluthenthal, and Brandon Granville. Clancy, who solidified my preseason pick of 2001-02 Pac-10 Player of the Year, will likely be the biggest hole in the entire Pac-10 to fill. Not only did he average 19 ppg & 9 rpg, but he was the heart and soul of the team. Granville was the starting point guard during all four of his years, and Bluthenthal only added 13 ppg and 7.5 rpg…plus a 40% three point shooter. 

So that's what's gone. Lets take a look at who's back and some of the fresh faces for USC in 2002-03;

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold
PG-Robert Hutchinson, 6'1, 185 Sr. (2.0 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 1.6 apg) 
SG-Errick Craven, 6'2, 190 So. (11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.8 apg) 
SF-Desmon Farmer, 6'4, 225 Jr. (9.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg) 
PF- Kostas Charissis, 6'11, 260 Sr. (2.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.4 apg) 
C- Rory O'Neil, 6'11, 240 So. C (4.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.4 apg) 

Key Returning Reserves
Derrick Craven, 6'2, 190 So. SG (0.3 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 1.0 apg) 
Jerry Dupree, 6'7, 200 Jr. (3.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.7 apg) 
Gregg Guenther, 6'8, 245 So. C/PF (0.1 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.1 apg) 
Nick Curtis, 6'8, 220 So. SF/PF (1.0 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.2 apg) 

Recruiting Class
Brandon Brooks, 6'1, 170 So. PG (Compton College/Jefferson HS in Portland, OR ) 
Roydell Smiley, 6'4 195 Jr. SF (Southeastern Iowa College/Garfield HS in Seattle, WA) 
Jeff McMillan, 6'8 250 Jr. PF ( Transfer from Fordham/St. Thomas Moore HS in Staten Island, NY)
Jonathan Oliver, 7'0, 230 Jr. C (Ventura College/Norman Thomas HS in New York, NY)

Obviously, some major holes to fill here for Bibby and his staff. Lets start in the backcourt, where Team Captain Robert Hutchinson will be asked to fill the void at the point. Hutchinson has been a pretty steady player for the Trojans over the past two seasons, and has subbed in admirably. He's still more suited as a bench player (averaging just 2 ppg and 3 ppg in his two years respectively), and asking him to carry any type of the backcourt scoring load will be too much. If Hutchinson falters whatsoever, Coach Bibby will not be shy about using Brandon Brooks…the newcomer from Compton JC. "Brandon Brooks is kind of an extension of Brandon Granville", according to Coach Bibby. "He plays the open court game well, and distibutes the ball as well as anyone we've had here. He brings a competitive edge. He will help make up for the kind of intangibles we lose without Granville." At the two, Errick Craven comes back after a superb Frosh year in which he narrowly lost the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award. In my opinion, Craven was the most electric young scorer in the league…with his ability to get to the rim and make plays. He's certainly not shy, as he put up 331 overall shots in 32 games (that's 10 a game). That stat rings out quite loud to me, considering Bluthenthal averaged 10 a game, and Granville averaged only 9. Errick needs to work on his outside game though, as he shot 32% from three point land…and if he shoots just over 40%, he'll be a nightmare to guard. Errick Craven also led the Pac-10 in steals last year, becoming the first frosh since Jason Kidd of Cal to do so. If the Trojans ever take Errick out of the game, perhaps Errick's twin brother Derrick might get a few minutes…as might newcomer Roydell Smiley. Smiley is considered a versatile player who can man the 1, 2, or 3…but is widely regarded as a scorer. 

In the frontcourt, it's a bit too early to know what's going to happen…though I believe that Kostas Charissis will regain his starting spot after a broken foot midway through the Pac-10 Season. Charissis played on the Greek National Team this summer, and he should improve on his 2 pts & 2 rebs per game in 2001-02. When Charissis went down, Frosh Rory O'Neil stepped right in and played very well. O'Neil is certainly offensively talented, but even Coach Bibby denoted that he needs to play better defense. He's a sponge though according to the staff, and a quick learner…so it'll be interesting how both Charissis & O'Neil work together as starters. If there are any problems in the paint, look for either Nick Curtis, Jeff McMillan, or Jonathan Oliver to get some minutes. Greg Guenther will play some once Football season ends. Overall, this group is a major step down when compared to last year's big men.

The wing might be the true strength of the Trojans next year. Desmon Farmer can stretch any 'D with his outside shot (39% from the trifecta), and Dupree is about as good an athlete as there is in the Pac-10. "When Jerry is out on the court, its like having another 7 footer on the floor because of his shot-blocking abilities", Coach Bibby said. Together, they are excellent defenders and might combine for the best 1-2 defensive combo in the league at the 3. If Dupree can improve offensively, it'll get him a ton more minutes too. 

Last year, just about all of my Pre-Season predictions involving the Trojans came true. Clancy won the Pac-10 Player of the Year, the Trojans won the re-introduced Pac-10 Tournament, and USC finished 4th in the conference. I don't always slot everyone right…but last year I managed to get teams #2, #3, and #4 correct in the Top 5. In 2002-03, I believe the Trojans are a team in transistion…and I don't think anybody in the Conference will miss Clancy, Bluthenthal, or Granville. They combined for the two best seasons in USC history, and I think that a step down is easy to predict. They should have a chance to defend their Pac-10 Conference Tournament Crown, but I don't believe they'll win it. I certainly think the Trojans will be an interesting bubble team when its all said and done. An injury to Errick Craven and the wheels will spin off though. If Jerry Dupree improves offensively…they could develop a nice scoring combo. Coach Bibby knows his team will have to be solid defensively to compete, and he even stated that is his outlook for 2002-03. He knows it's a transistion year…and that he'll have to have some of his role players a year ago step up. That's what happens when 45 ppg combined is lost in a graduation class! Still, it'll be a season of opportunity in L.A for this team…and I believe they'll still knock off some big teams along the way.

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