Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net
Last Season: In the 2003-04 preseason, the Trojans seemed on paper like a potential NCAA Tournament team, with both talent and depth. But they came up woefully short of the NCAAs. They looked like a Top 25 squad in wins over Arizona, a sweep of UCLA and two competitive contests with mighty Stanford -- but inconsistent play led to losses to teams such as Western Michigan, Cal-Poly, and being sweeped by Washington State. Their final record was 13-15 (8-10 PAC-10). Desmond Farmer was the team's star, with his 19.4 points/game, and he graduated, though seven seniors return for 2004-05. The talent is there this season, especially in the frontcourt, but the Trojans will need far better perimeter shooting and a more consistent overall performance each night in order to meet any postseason aspirations this year.
This Season To Date: USC trailed at the half, 37-36, in their season opener to UC-Irvine -- but a 33-15 run to open the second half led to a 90-70 win. Jeff McMillan led the Trojans with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and while last season three-point shooting was a major weakness for the team, the Trojans were 13-24 (54%) on three-pointers in the opener.
Frontcourt Talent: Jeff McMillan is the top producer in the post, a strongpoint for the Trojans in which all four key contributers are seniors. The 6-8, 260-pound McMillan, who began his career at Fordham, is comparable to UNC's Sean May in his size and agility. He recorded 10 double-doubles last season and destroyed the school record for season field goal percentage, shooting 63.0 percent. Alongside McMillan is senior Roy O'Neil, a 6-11 center whose versatility is both a strength and weakness for the Trojans. While he led the team in blocks a year ago (1.5/game), he often plays more like a forward -- good in that he's also the team's top returning three-point shooter (36%), but bad in that he only averaged 3.8 rebounds. His best game last season was a 16-point, 12-board and 6-block performance against Cal. More games like that will lead to more wins for USC. Off the bench, the Trojans have Gregg Guenther (5.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg), a 6-9, 255-pound bruiser who is expected to have more of an impact now that he has left the football team to become a full-time hoopster, therefore joining the team at the start of the season rather than in January. The other main frontcourt reserve is 6-8 forward Nick Curtis, who appeared on the way to stardom two years ago until tendonitis slowed him.
Twin Power: USC featured two sets of twins a year ago. Errick and Derrick Craven comprise the starting backcourt and combined for 17.2 points and 5.9 assists last season. Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart arrived with significant hype (and were recruited by UNC for a short time in high school), though while Lodrick excelled in his freshman season and is now a starter as a sophomore, Rodrick's shots didn't fall and after being declared academically ineligible this semester, he transferred to Kansas. The Cravens shot a mere 26 percent (38-147) from beyond the arc last season, which leaves Lodrick Stewart (33%) as the top returning three-point shooter among the guards.
Impact Newcomers: With seven seniors, recruiting was a key last season for USC and its incoming class is ranked in the national Top 10 by some analysts. Three of the newcomers made important contributions in the opener. Gabriel Pruitt, a heralded guard out of L.A., played 24 minutes and tied for the team-high with 13 points and 3 assists. Dwayne Shackleford, a 5-10 JuCo transfer, showed his reputed scoring ability with 12 points (3-6 3pt). And Nick Young, an athletic wing, provided nine minutes in reserve.
Head Trojan: Henry Bibby begins his ninth season at USC. His basketball career began at Person-Albion High in Franklinton, N.C., continued at UCLA (where has was just inducted into the school's Hall of Fame), and that led to eight seasons in the NBA and one in the CBA. In fact, he's reportedly the only person to ever play for an NCAA, NBA and CBA championship. As the head coach at USC, he's had mixed success. The program reached the national stage with an Elite Eight run in 2001, followed by an NCAA berth the following year, but since then Bibby has had two-straight losing seasons. With such a senior-laden squad this year, Trojans fans are hoping for success in 2004-05, since 2005-06 could be a real struggle.
Background Location: Los Angeles, Calif. Enrollment: 30,000 Conference: PAC-10 Nickname: Trojans Colors: Cardinal & Gold Head Coach: Henry Bibby Record at USC: 130-109
Projected Starters: Errick Craven (6-2, G, Sr.) – 11.1 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.3 spg Derrick Craven (6-2, G, Sr.) - 6.1 ppg, 2.9 apg Lodrick Stewart (6-4, G, So.) – 8.7 ppg Jeff McMillan (6-8, F, Sr.) - 11.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg Rory O'Neil (6-11, C, Sr.) – 8.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg Key Reserves: Gabriel Pruitt (6-4, G, Fr.) – L.A., Calif. (Westchester HS) Dwayne Shackleford (5-10, G, Jr.) – Wash. DC (Allegany CC) Gregg Guenther (6-9, F, Sr.) – 5.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg Nick Young (6-6, F, Fr.) – L.A., Calif. (Cleveland HS) Nick Curtis (6-8, F, Sr.) - 3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg
McMillan ... O'Neil
D. Craven ... Stewart
Bibby ... Curtis
(Photos by the AP.)