January 19, 2013 by Marshall Kelner
By Marshall Kelner
It’s been quite a busy week in USC hoops, to say the least. Here are some takes that I have on all the madness, and the game still to come tomorrow.
- Last night’s 76-74 loss to #21 Oregon, in interim head coach Bob Cantu’s debut, was simply heartbreaking. The Trojans played hard and with great energy for most of the night, but just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch. Some more specific thoughts on the performance:
-I loved that Coach Cantu had the Trojans playing at a faster pace and being the aggressor offensively. It’s only the fourth time this season that USC has surpassed the 70-point plateau. They were able to get out in transition for some easy buckets, as well as get to the foul line 32 times. The problem is, they could not knock down enough free throws (20-32), which in large part cost them the game. The pace, though, was very encouraging and a sign that Cantu knows that USC must make use of its advantage they have athletically on most teams in the Pac-12. They played with more joy and were much looser. Through one game, well done Bob Cantu.
–J.T. Terrell, who I wrote about last week, was simply sensational. He led all scorers with 22 points, including 4-9 from three-point range, and 6-7 from the foul line. He is USC’s most gifted player offensively by a long shot, and the offense must go through him the rest of the season. His outside shot was falling, but he also was very aggressive in taking the ball to the bucket to create shots for himself and his teammates. He had two great finishes in transition (where he can really excel), and also had a particularly nice dish to Aaron Fuller off of dribble penetration (one of his three assists on the night). I don’t make this comparison lightly, but Terrell’s game really does remind me of O.J. Mayo’s. Both can shoot the ball effectively from the outside (with some serious arc on it), but each is at his best when he attacks the rim and gets out on the fast break. The main difference is that Terrell is a couple inches shorter than the former Trojan. I’ve said from the beginning that there’s no question J.T. is one of the most talented players in the Pac-12, and he must continue to show it if USC wants to compete in this conference.
–Dewayne Dedmon is a horrible pick and roll defender. I think this is mostly due to his inexperience, only playing organized basketball since he turned 18. This also explains some other deficiencies he has, such as boxing out, getting back on defense, and not committing silly fouls. His pick and roll defense, however, is his worst trait. He just has no idea weather to hedge, switch, blitz, and he completely loses track of his defender. You can tell every time you watch him that this part of his game doesn’t come naturally, and he is thinking too much out on the floor. Last night, Oregon Head Coach Dana Altman astutely exploited this weakness again and again, and it led to multiple uncontested dunks for the Oregon bigs. This isn’t meant to be an all-out bashing of Dedmon, because I love his motor and his upside, even at age 23. His is a freak of nature athletically and has shown taken tremendous strides since arriving at USC, especially blocking shots and improving his touch around the rim. Until his pick and roll defense improves, however, coaches will continue to exploit it and it will cost the Trojans.
–Eric Wise seemed to lack energy in the first half and when he was taken out with two fouls with about four minutes to play, his body language was absolutely awful. He was pouting and his effort on defense wasn’t there. To his credit, the senior was excellent in the second half and hit a huge three late to key a 7-0 SC run. However, the key word there is senior. You simply can’t have a half of uninspired play from one of your key upperclassman. On a team with a lot of new parts, the veterans need to show leadership and that starts with playing hard all the time. Wise has been steady all year long, and he along with the rest of the Trojans need to bring it for 40 minutes each and every night in an improved Pac-12. Conference play is too tough not to, especially on your home floor.
-The Trojans seven-footers, Dedmon and Omar Oraby don’t make the most of their size. Speaking of effort, Oraby’s motor is very inconsistent. When he’s assertive and gets deep post position, he’s virtually automatic offensively. The problem is, he’s not the strongest guy and doesn’t get nearly as many rebounds as he should. In 18 minutes last night, Oraby had exactly zero rebounds. Completely diseased and unacceptable for a seven-foot-two human being. The Trojans as a team were out-rebounded 38-25 and gave up 13 offensive boards. Give the Ducks credit, because they have been tenacious on the boards all year long, but that can’t happen when you have the size USC does.
-Little things are crucial in big conference games. USC didn’t do enough little things right to win the game last night. The foul on a three pointer by Renaldo Woolridge as time expired in the first half was unbelievably bad. It cost USC two points. Funny, the Trojans lost by two. I mentioned the poor free throw shooting earlier. SC didn’t get enough 50-50 balls. They had three chances on the final possession to tie or win the game, two at point blank range, and couldn’t convert.
-This Oregon team is for real and it’s in large part due to the outstanding senior leadership of E.J. Singler. Yes, I said senior leadership, something that’s been lacking lately in the freshman frenzy that is college basketball. The dude is a stud. 14 points, six rebounds, and seven assists from the veteran forward last night, whose brother balled at Duke. He would not let his team lose the game down the stretch. Every offensive possession went through him, he made the right decisions every time with the basketball in his hands, only turned it over once, and daggered the Trojans with a pair of long balls. I was impressed.
- On the firing of Kevin O’Neill, everyone knew it was coming and it had to happen eventually. The timing was a bit surprising, considering SC was playing better and coming off a big win at Utah, but I like the decision by Pat Haden. If you know you’re going to fire him after the season, why not do it now? It gives USC a chance to potentially get some new life under Cantu, and also gives Haden more time for the coaching search, something he must get right. We will see if the commitment to basketball is there based on the amount of money he pays the new coach. I’ll post more about the coaching search in the coming weeks. For now though, as critical as I was of O’Neill, he was very enjoyable to cover. You never knew what he was going to say in practice (most of which I can’t repeat here). He was extremely open and candid with the media, something we don’t get enough of from coaches today. KO was extremely kind with me personally, coming on my radio show several times and being very generous with his time. For that, I thank him and wish him and his family the very best.
- The Oregon State game tomorrow at Galen is an absolute must win if the Trojans hope to remain relevant in the conference. The Beavers are missing several key players. They are 0-4 in Pac-12 play and looked listless for much of their loss at Pauley Pavilion to the Bruins last evening. I believe the Trojans will win tomorrow, move to 3-3, and get a split on the weekend. Any more home splits, however, and the Trojans are in major trouble.
- The general consensus is that USC must win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas in order to get to the NCAA Tournament and that an at-large bid is out of the question. I would say this is likely true, but there is a sliver of hope. The only way I see an at-large bid possibility is if USC were to go 12-6 in the conference, which would get them to 17 wins. Then, they would probably have to win a game or two in Vegas to have a shot. A 12-6 record would mean going 10-3 the rest of the way, which is obviously highly unlikely. With the talent USC has, though, it can be done. They are playing much better as of late. In order to accomplish this, they probably have to win their remaining six home games (Oregon St, Washington, Washington St, Arizona, Arizona St, and UCLA). Four of those will be tough. That would mean they would need to go 4-3 in their remaining seven road contests. Of those, Cal, Stanford, Washington St, and ASU seem to be the most likely wins. Arizona, UCLA, and Washington will be difficult. Remember, although SC only went 5-8 in the non-conference slate and had some bad losses (Irvine, Georgia, Nebraska), their strength of schedule was outstanding. If they are able to finish with a record around 18-15 or 19-14, their RPI should be good enough to sneak in. Like I said, very unlikely, but not impossible.
That’s it for now. I would love to hear anyone’s feedback in the comments section. Enjoy the game tomorrow night and have a great weekend. Fight On!