Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: No. 22 USC
Southern California basketball will dance to a different beat literally and figuratively during the madness in March.
Controversial star O.J. Mayo is out. Fabulous freshman DeMar DeRozan is in. Also in is Master P.'s son Romeo Miller, otherwise known as Lil' Romeo.
Miller will probably have the biggest impact of any recruit in the history of the game for a player who might not play a single meaningful minute. Rivals considers Miller only a two star recruit, but offering a scholarship to Miller helped lure top five recruit DeRozan to the school.
Miller and DeRozan are good friends and according to The Wall Street Journal, committed to USC together while driving with Romeo's father, Percy, after a tournament in Arkansas when Coach Tim Floyd offered both a scholarship.
While Miller probably won't contribute much if anything this season, DeRozan could easily have the biggest impact of any of the standout freshmen this year.
He's a 6'6'' swingman who's going to be on the floor to score. The Compton native wasn't recruited for his intangibles. He's expected to fill the void O.J. Mayo left when he bolted for the NBA after just one season in Los Angeles.
Mayo's loss will hurt, but won't hurt quite as much as it may seem.
According to Ken Pomeroy statistics, Mayo finished an incredibly high percentage of the Trojans' plays, but at an inefficient rate. He finished 25th in the country in possession rate at 30.8 percent which means three out of every ten offensive possessions that Mayo was on the floor for ended at the hands of Mayo.
A high possession percentage isn't a bad thing if Mayo is efficient with the ball, but he took 34 percent of his team's shots while on the floor at an effective field goal percentage of 52.4 percent, fifth best on his own team.
If DeRozan can come in and be more effective through higher percentage shots, USC will improve its 52nd ranked offensive efficiency rating.
DeRozan won't have to shoulder the entire scoring load. Junior guards Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis will have larger roles in the offense now that Mayo is gone. The two combined for 19.4 points per game in 2008.
In the front court, the Trojans return the PAC-10's third leading rebounder Taj Gibson. The Junior averaged 11 points on 58 percent shooting. He should receive more touches in the post because Gibson is efficient enough with the ball to be a productive member of the offense. But overall for Gibson, defense, not scoring is his forte.
Gibson was selected to the All PAC-10 Defensive First-Team. He's on pace to shatter the school record for blocks in just his junior year. Also, no Trojan has grabbed more rebounds in his first two years in L.A. than Gibson.
Taj Gibson entered USC in 2006 as a four star recruit, but has under performed slightly. If used the right way, the undersized center could become the most dominant big man in a conference lacking a lot of quality forwards.
Gibson is a big part of USC's superb defense. The Trojans ranked 15th in the country in defensive efficiency in 2008 and ranked first in the conference in opponent's field goal percentage.
Sophomore Kasey Cunningham should fill the final starting spot if he can remain healthy. He's battled through knee injuries during his first two seasons, red-shirting his freshman year and playing just nine games in 2008.
If Cunningham struggles in his starting role, he'll have plenty of players vying for his spot. Highly regarded freshman Leonard Washington finally gained eligibility and can contribute immediately. Senior Keith Wilkinson could also step up with an increase in minutes.
Wings Marcus Simmons and Marcus Johnson will spell Lewis and DeRozan, but Simmons and Johnson have little experience with the Trojans. Simmons spent half of the 2008 on the bench with an ankle sprain. Johnson sat out the entire 2008 season as a transfer from UConn.
Taj Gibson will also have three players to back him up. Seven-footer Mamadou Diarra played just three games last year as a freshmen. He's another solid defender and can also run the floor very well. If he stays healthy, it will allow Coach Floyd to slide Gibson to the four and play Diarra at center.
Also ready to anchor the middle is senior RouSean Cromwell who played in 21 games last year and was on the floor for only eight minutes per game. Freshman Nikola Vucevic, a native of Montenegro could also fill a few minutes in the front court.
Overall, Tim Floyd will be able to run ten to twelve players as opposed to the eight players Floyd was limited to in 2008. Every single one of the players that will be in Floyd's rotation in 2008 are listed at 6'5'' or taller creating one of the largest line-ups in the country.
2008 Season Forecast
The Trojan's non-conference schedule has a few tough dates, but overall it's a pretty easy non-league schedule. USC should lose at most three games in the non-conference slate, and probably will squeak through it with only two losses.
A trip to Norman, Oklahoma for a tip against the Sooners in the Big 12/PAC-10 Hardwood Classic should almost certainly result in a loss.
USC has only a few tough games after that. There is the potential to play Memphis in San Juan during the Puerto Rico Tipoff Tournament.
The PAC-10 is going to have a down year in 2009, so USC should be able to fly through its conference schedule. An 11-7 or 12-6 record in the conference is likely. Overall, the Trojans should finish with 20-23 wins in the regular season.
Best Case Scenario
DeMar DeRozan pans out and the Trojan big men develop into solid players. USC makes the NCAA Tournament and goes to the Sweet 16.
Worst Case Scenario
DeMar DeRozan doesn't live up to the hype and can't handle being the number one option. Despite a gaggle of big men, USC can't find consistency. The Trojans struggle through the conference season, overall winning just 18 or 19 games and sit on the bubble on Selection Sunday.
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