Who Are You: USC Trojans

Kevin "Kevo" Danna provides the faithful with his preview of the USC Trojans, including a look at their current season, the players to watch out for this evening, and the keys to a Stanford victory as they look to open their home Pac-10 slate with a win versus their rivals from Southern California!

After a 92-66 loss to Cal in Berkeley on Saturday, Stanford looks to right the ship with two games against the LA schools at Maples. Let's take a look at the Farm Boys' Wednesday opponent, the USC Trojans, and what the Cardinal need to do against Coach O'Neill and company in order to get back to .500 on the season overall, as well as 50-50 in conference play.

2009-2010 Season: 10-4 (2-0 Pac-10, 0-2 Away)

It has been the ultimate rollercoaster season for the Trojans. After knocking off UC-Riverside in the season opener, USC dropped an embarrassing 67-59 decision at home to a Loyola Marymount team that lost more than 25 games in 2008-2009 (that loss looks a little better now considering the Lions have already improved on their 08-09 win total). Losses to Nebraska, Texas, and Georgia Tech would ensue as the Trojans found themselves at 2-4. However, the Trojans had been riding high ever since then… until Sunday. Senior transfer Mike Gerrity (Charlotte, Pepperdine) was cleared by the NCAA to play against Tennessee, and he made an instant impact: 12 points, 10 assists en route to a 77-55 romp of the 8th-ranked Volunteers. Next, USC went to play in the Inaugural Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu and throttled St. Mary's and #20 UNLV en route to the tournament championship. The return of Leonard Washington helped the Trojans continued the push, as they began conference play with solid home victories over the Arizona schools to get to 10-4 on the season with an eight-game winning streak.

And then the ghosts of OJ Mayo, Tim Floyd, and Rodney Guillory Past reared its collective ugly head on Sunday. The school announced that it would take the punishment of the USC Men's Basketball Program into its own hands - handing down a multitude of penalties: no post-season play for the 2009-2010 season (including no Pac-10 tournament appearance), a loss of one scholarship for this season and the next, a loss of one assistant coach on the recruiting trail this season and next, and a trimming of recruiting days from 130 to 110.

This could be either really good or really bad for Stanford on Wednesday. On one hand, USC might be totally dejected and pull a Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl and pack it in. Or, they might be really pissed off and take their frustration out on us. Let's hope it's the former. We'll find out how good of a coach Kevin O'Neill is over the course of the next few weeks.

Everyone spent the off-season talking about how there are no big men in the conference, but USC is huge from top to bottom. They possess a size advantage at spots two through five on the floor and have a few guys in Alex Stephenson, Nikola Vucevic, and Marcus Johnson that know how to bang down low. As a result, they are one of the top rebounding teams in the conference (they outrebound opponents by a margin of 36-30) and one of the best defensive units in the nation (opponents only score 54 per game on them, and Arizona State was lucky to manage 37 on Saturday night after scoring 29 in the first 37 minutes).

Key Players

• Mike Gerrity (6'1, 180-lb RS Senior Guard from Yorba Linda, CA) - this guy has really bounced around quite a bit, but he has quickly found a home back home in SoCal. He played in one game for two minutes as a sophomore at Pepperdine before transferring to Charlotte. After playing one season at Charlotte, he decided to head back home and transferred back to USC. So even though he is a 5th year Senior, this is really only his third season of collegiate basketball. He brings a great calming presence to the backcourt and has made a world of difference with his deft passing abilities and hounding defense. He leads the team in scoring (12.5 ppg) and assists (3.7 apg), and also has 3.3 rebounds to boot. He can also stroke it, connecting on 45.5% of his three-point attempts.

• Alex Stephenson (6'9, 235-lb RS Junior from Los Angeles) - yet another transfer on the Trojan squad, Stephenson made his way back home after two seasons in Chapel Hill playing for Roy Williams. Most of his presence will be felt on the defensive end for USC, as he is a great defender, rebounder, and shot blocker (he was 3rd in 2007-2008 on UNC in shots blocked with 33). This year, he is averaging close to a double-double with 9.9 ppg and 8.4 rpg to go along with 1.7 blocks per contest. He's not a good free-throw shooter though, just connecting at a 50.9% clip from the charity stripe.

• Nikola Vucevic (6'10, 240-lb Sophomore from Bar, Montenegro) - it might be early in the season, but Vucevic has my vote for Most Improved Player in the Pac-10. He went from 2.6 ppg and 2.7 rpg and looking completely awkward and uncomfortable on the court as a freshman to averaging almost a double-double this season with 12.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg and demonstrating a great feel for the game and a good amount of athletic ability. I honestly didn't think this guy belonged on a court last year after watching him play against Stanford and some other schools. Now? He's a bona-fide Pac-10 post player and is right up there with teammate Alex Stephenson and Oregon Center Michael Dunigan as far as top-tier conference bigs are concerned.

Dwight Lewis(6'5, 215-lb Senior from Metairie, LA) - my college roommate of four years played against Dwight in high school and has a soft spot in his heart for this guy. As a result, I guess I do too. Dwight is a sharp-shooter who can also get to the hoop and plays his tail off on the defensive end. He led the team in scoring last year with 14.4 ppg and is third this season with 12.1 ppg. However, he has struggled from the floor this season, shooting just 36.4% from the field and 22% from beyond the arc.

Kevo's Keys to a Cardinal Conquering of Kevin O'Neill and Company

• Make shots - I know this is over-simplifying things, but Arizona State was shooting under 25% from the field for the majority of the game on Saturday Night against USC. Also, Stanford shot just 9-32 from the field in the first half against kal before picking up the pace in the second half. It really is going to come down to our ability to finish off second-chance opportunities and hit shots from the perimeter.

• The emergence of a third scorer - We know Landry and Jeremy can score, and both dropped at least 20 against kal. However, nobody scored more than five points otherwise, and Monty was able to key in on Fields and Green even more. Whether it's Zimmermann, Trotter, Mann, or whoever, at least one other player needs to score double-figures for Stanford to be successful.

• Da'Veed Dildy- In Veed's first game back in the line-up, he scored five points, dished out three assists, and didn't turn the ball over in eight minutes. Dildy will absolutely excel in a grind-it-out game like the one against USC will be because he never panics and always makes the smart play. He is the kind of guy that can stop potential runs from opponents in their tracks by being able to change the pace and flow of the game to Stanford's liking.

Come out to Maples tonight and check back on TheBootleg.com later on in the evening for another "Boom Boom" Salloom article!

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