Digging a Hole: Trojans are 0-3 in Pac-10 Play
Trojan Basketball Needs to Find Some Answers in a Hurry
Three games into conference play and the Trojans need to find answers quickly. The only problem being, this young team may not know what the question is. The Trojans came into the season with great expectations after a stellar season last year and new hope riding on the incoming freshman class.
What may be the wild card for this team was the leadership lost when Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt decided to leave for the NBA after last season. Enter freshmen Angelo Johnson, Davon Jefferson, Marcus Simmons, Mamadou Diarra and phenom, O.J. Mayo. It was expected that Mayo would lead this freshman class and the team to new heights.
Instead, what we have seen thus far in this young season is a very young basketball team searching for direction. The team is bottom heavy, with five freshmen (plus one redshirt freshman), five sophomores, three juniors and no seniors. Watching the Trojans on the court only emphasizes the youth and lack of depth of this team.
To start conference play, the bench has scored eight points in three games, none last night against the Washington State Cougars. On a coach's decision, Davon Jefferson did not play in the game at the Galen Center, further emphasizing the lack of depth.
Once the lack of depth issue is addressed, two other problems are blatantly obvious:
(1) The team needs leadership
(2) Lack of size in the middle has to be compensated for
Last season's team which ended the season ranked in the top twenty, lost seniors Lodrick Stewart and Abdoulaye N'diaye along with Young and Pruitt. Pruitt, Young and Stewart were the leaders of the team and N'diaye had size. Both elements, leadership and size are missing on this year's squad.
The Trojans are weak in the middle with 6'9", 225 Gibson; a power-forward often playing the center position. 6'11", 225 RouSean Cromwell and 6'10", 225 Keith Wilkinson can come in for height but neither are true power players.
Some Fixes Are in Order
Given the aforementioned weaknesses, the Trojans have their work cutout for them if they expect to bounce back from the disappointing 0-3 start.
Depth could be addressed if Davon Jefferson steps up and claims a regular spot on the team. Early this season, he has been inconsistent, highlighted by Coach Floyd's decision to keep him out of the game against the Cougars. At 6'8", 215, Jefferson was sorely missed. Furthermore, second line players need to step-up their offensive (quite offensive) contributions. The bench needs to contribute in order for this team to be successful.
Leadership. It is time for players to come forward and claim leadership of this team. Obviously, O.J. Mayo needs to assert himself more as a leader. Gibson and Daniel Hackett also need to become stronger leaders and step up in a hurry.
Size. Well, it's too late to address size, and size cannot be learned or coached. This team really has three forwards somewhat able to play center. Since there is no big man, the Trojans need to make up for the lack of size by boxing-out on rebound opportunities and fine tuning their perimeter game. They also need to make their scoring opportunities count. Relying on 6'9" Taj Gibson as a power man will take the Trojans only so far, especially when Jefferson is not in the lineup.
At 0-3, the Fix Needs to Happen, Yesterday
USC has dug themselves into an uncomfortable little hole to start off Pac-10 play. Whatever the fixes are, they need to be implemented quickly. Washington comes to the Galen Center on Saturday and the team needs to come up to the plate or risk starting off 0-4 in conference play.
Notes from the Locker Room
Emphasizing the lack of bench production, Coach Floyd said, "You just have to look at points off of turnovers, points in the paint and points off the bench. They tell you a lot." USC's points off the bench: 0.
Floyd also left a somewhat cryptic message when explaining Davon Jefferson not playing. He said, "We didn't play Davon tonight. He will play Saturday. He didn't make the cut tonight. It was a coach's decision…there's lots of room for growth in Davon." He did not elaborate, saying, "That's all I'm going to say about it."
Daniel Hackett was visibly upset in the locker room after the game. He sat motionless and quiet for the better part of 10 minutes, distraught over yet another Pac-10 loss. Before heading up to the Bay Area last week, Hackett commented that the team's goal was to get a split on the road. Here it is, game three of conference play, and the Trojans have yet to chalk-up a victory. Commenting on the defeat, Hackett said, "Just the way we started the game, bad shots, we didn't set the tempo offensively, and they just packed the paint. On the other hand, I don't see many teams in the country that can stop them (WSU), they might be one of the smartest teams."
O.J. Mayo, explaining whether he felt there was more attention focused on him with Davon Jefferson not playing, said, "He's a player that can help us, he can get rebounds and put the ball in the basket. You know, it's not about me, I don't want it to be all about me. We have a good team here, we just need to pull it together and get some wins."
Taj Gibson had 16 points on 8-10 field goal shooting had one of his best offensive games of the season. He explained his improved output, "I felt like I needed to do the best I can, get a lot of rebounds. Coach wanted me to be active on the offensive end. Fortunately I got of good looks."
About the Cougars, Gibson said, "The last two years that I've been here, this is the most disciplined team I've seen." Added Hackett, "Smart teams beat talent. They're poised, they take care of the ball, all these good things."
Next up: Washington, Galen Center 3:30 p.m. PST, Prime Ticket.