Jake’s Takes: An Investigation Into USC’s Big Man Woes

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January 21, 2013 by Jacob Freedman

DISCLAIMER: This article is going to come off as critical because, well, it is. Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby are doing plenty right on the court, but for this piece’s purposes, I’m focusing on what kind of improvements need to be seen. 

On November 8, one day before the Trojans’ season opener, the NCAA declared Omar Oraby eligible. The addition of the 7-foot-2 center from Cairo via Rice University to go with 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon gave USC the allure of having the “Twin Towers” playing together on the block. Add in James Blazcyzk, and USC is one of two teams in college basketball (Florida State the other) with a trio of seven-footers. Yet, USC’s early season struggles that resulted in coach Kevin O’Neill’s firing cannot be solely blamed on the shooting woes of Jio Fontan and J.T. Terrell nor the inability to execute offensive play sets.

The post dominance era at USC is turning out to be shorter than the lifespan of pet rocks or Mike Brown in Los Angeles. The woes of the big men cost USC the game against Oregon, so against Oregon State I decided to solely focus on them and analyze why the reality of their performance is not meeting expectations.

Not Adjusting Off the Pick and Roll

This happens all too often to Oraby. Two minutes into the game, Oraby was switched off of OSU forward/center Joe Burton and ended up guarding the much-quicker Devon Collier, who forced Oraby out of the paint and hit an easy jumper. I could write that same sentence a couple more times as well, as OSU coach Craig Robinson wisely dragged Oraby out again and again, once even drawing the big man out to three-point line. Later in the game, Oraby did seem happier when the Trojans played a zone defense of their own though.

Dedmon is a great defender when his man in one-on-one post-ups, but also struggles to deal with having picks set on him. Instead of rolling off them immediately, he’ll take a split-second too long to realize where his man is. That’s all it takes for an opponent to get a quick (and easy) two.

Boxed Out

As Josh pointed out, and confirmed upon the pair’s dreadful showing against the Beavers, the Trojan big men struggle to box out to get defensive rebounds. The Beavers had no one taller than 6-foot-10, yet outrebounded the Trojans 29-26. Same deal against Oregon, where USC was outrebounded 38-25. Over USC’s last two games, the big men combined for just 11 rebounds.

In Dedmon’s case, having all the hops in the world doesn’t help if you leap the wrong way on the boards. His strength needs work too, as he often is pushed around in a way that allows the man he’s guarding to have easy access to the offensive boards. Both USC big men are skilled at tipping the ball out to their teammates following a scrum on the boards following a missed shot, but USC is last in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin for a reason. It’s not about how tall you are, but about where you are in the proximity to the basket.

If the Shot is Difficult, Don’t Take It

I’ve slowly become supportive of Dedmon’s mid-range jumper. His acrobatic 12-footer taken whilst falling back or flying through the air, not so much. Oraby likes his turn-around flip shot, but his offensive power lies in his ability to find himself in great position to be fed the ball on the block, then spin or power his way for an easy bucket off the glass. His signature one-handed push shot halfway through the paint is usually money, but anything outside ten feet that isn’t a wide-open look spells trouble.

As much as the two have struggled this season, let Fontan and Terrell take the in-traffic looks. Or even better, continue the fast-paced offensive style has resulted in something rare in the past two years under Kevin O’Neill: Offensive bursts.

I can face the facts: Oraby had a rough outing against Oregon State, while Dedmon incurred his second foul-out of the year and saw his offensive role limited to three shot attempts.

I’m confident that there will be noticeable strides from now until the season’s end in two months, but hopefully this piece will help explain to fans why the touted duo isn’t averaging a combined 20-15 night in and night out.

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