Men’s basketball to open promising season

first_imgThe roster looks dramatically different from last year’s after securing the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation, highlighted by five-star freshman forwards Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu. Mobley was named to the watch list for the Malone Award, given to the top power forward in the nation. Those two are the fifth- and seventh-highest rated recruits, respectively, in USC’s history (not including 2020 center Evan Mobley, who is ranked No. 1 in his class).  The Pac-12 preseason media poll had the Trojans finishing fifth in the conference behind Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Arizona. Washington brought in two stud freshmen forwards in the front court — Jaden McDaniels, who has drawn comparisons to a young Kevin Durant, and Isaiah Stewart. Sophomore transfer forward and former Trojan J’Raan Brooks will sit this season due to NCAA eligibility rules, but sophomore transfer guard Quade Green was ruled eligible over the weekend. The Huskies lost their top player from last year, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle, to the first round of the NBA Draft. The Trojans will take on Florida A&M Tuesday at 8 p.m. to begin the regular season.  Editor’s note: A previous version of this article included inaccurate statistics from USC’s preseason game against Santa Clara. The article has been updated online with the correct information. Rakocevic was second in last year’s team in scoring with 14.7 points per game to go along with 9.3 rebounds. He is the sixth-leading returning scorer and second-leading rebounder in the Pac-12, and was named to the watch list for the Abdul-Jabbar award, given to the nation’s top centers. The Buffaloes return their two top players in juniors guard McKinley Wright IV and guard/forward Tyler Bey, who was the winner of the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award and named All-Pac-12 Conference First Team last season. Although this year’s recruiting class ranked last in the Pac-12, the Buffaloes have plenty of experience and depth, and the team’s core is entering its third season together.  Returning for this season are seniors guard Jonah Mathews and forward Nick Rakocevic, redshirt sophomore guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. and sophomore guard Elijah Weaver.  Head coach Andy Enfield added graduate transfer guard Daniel Utomi and redshirt senior guard Quinton Adlesh. Both will bring veteran leadership, physicality and shooting to the Trojans.  Adding physicality, athleticism, versatile defenders and even more shooting is a great start, and if the team can gel and play unselfish basketball in order to reach its potential, the Trojans will have a chance in a crowded Pac-12.  O’Bannon is ready to make an impact after a broken left pinky finger limited him to just one game last season. Weaver, who started five games as a freshman and averaged 5.1 points per game, will provide shooting and ball handling. He scored 11 points in the exhibition against Villanova. “The two of them are really fun to watch,” Enfield said of Utomi and Adlesh in an interview with the Orange County Register. “We hope that they can grow quickly because we need both of them to contribute.” Despite having two players last season now in the NBA — first-round pick guard Kevin Porter Jr. and undrafted free agent forward Bennie Boatwright — the squad could only muster a disappointing 16-17 record overall and 8-10 in conference, leading to an eventual Pac-12 quarterfinal defeat at the hands of regular season champion Washington. This lack of translation from talent to on-court success has been a recent trend. center_img Last season, the Trojans had the Pac-12’s highest team three-point percentage, the most assists per game and scored the third-most points per game. However, between a 2-8 record on the road and allowing the seventh-most points per game in the Pac-12, it will take much more consistency to contend this year. The Trojans have six freshmen that should make an impact from the get-go, including four-star small forward Max Agbonkpolo, three-star guards Kyle Sturdivant and Ethan Anderson and three star shooting guard and two-sport athlete Drake London once he finishes the football season. The freshmen scored 56 points in USC’s 72-68 preseason victory over Santa Clara, led by Okongwu’s 17.  Mathews, who was one of two players to start every game for the Trojans last season, was third in the team in scoring, putting up 12.6 points per game.  The success of this year’s squad will likely be predicated on the performance of its freshman.  Amid FBI investigations and allegations against head coach Sean Miller, the Arizona Wildcats were able to bring in yet another uber-talented class, with two of ESPN’s top 10 players in the country in freshmen guards Nico Mannion and Josh Green. After a couple of inconsistent and underwhelming seasons, the Wildcats need to get back on track or else more people will call for Miller’s firing.  The Trojans are coming off their winningest four-year span in program history with 87 total victories. That said, a loss in the Round of 32 like 2017 isn’t exactly the golden standard for a team that has consistently been in the top 35 in recruiting — and has improved its incoming classes every year.  Freshman forward Isaiah Mobley and the young Trojan team are looking to compete for a conference championship this season. (Sarah Ko | Daily Trojan) Oregon will be led by last year’s conference tournament MVP, senior guard Payton Pritchard, who has hit countless clutch shots over conference opponents throughout his career. He’ll be aided by the Ducks’ No. 4-ranked recruiting class.  The USC men’s basketball team opens its regular season Tuesday night as it begins the hunt for its first March Madness appearance since 2017.  Although they’ll be without their top recruit, freshman center N’Faly Dante, for the first nine games of the season due to the NCAA missing his clearance date, five-star forward CJ Walker and four-star point guard Addison Patterson and forward Chandler Lawson will contribute early for the Ducks.  “Gritty and tough, that’s what we want to be labeled as. A team you don’t want to play against,” Mathews said in an interview with the Orange County Register. “There’s some teams that you don’t want to meet up with in the tournament or whatever, and we want that to be us.”last_img read more