The USC Men's Basketball program will begin the 2021-2022 season with a unique opportunity, a chance to turn USC into a "Basketball School." While the main focus of this blog has always been the Basketball team, that in no way diminishes my affinity for the Football Program, but I will not beat around the bush, our Football team is a disaster!
From the instability on the coaching staff to failures in recruiting, the football team has taken a significant step back as the traditional blue bloods of the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and even Oregon have turned in consistent seasons for seemingly the past decade. The good news is that help is on the way, and while I have no semblance of a clue who our next coach will be, I know we will improve.
The better news is that these issues have not plagued Coach Andy Enfield and the USC Basketball Team. Coach Andy has established a consistent style of play, inroads in major recruiting markets and most importantly successful seasons. Coming off the Elite 8 Appearance in last years tournament, the Trojans have the depth and talent to make another run to the promise land. As I addressed in the offseason report, gone are Evan Mobley and Tahj Eaddy, and in are a trio of talented Freshman and a standout transfer. The rest of the roster is virtually untouched from last year, and the continuity and comfort with the core should be exciting to watch.
In less than 24 hours, I will step foot back into the Galen Center, and I find myself a tad bit giddy. I expect the student section to be full, both paying some much deserved respect to last year's team, a tiny slap in the face to the football team and mostly a desire to see a winning product in a USC uniform.
Standing in the way of a perfect start will be the Cal State Northridge Matadors. CSUN enters the Galen Center after a disappointing 2020-2021 campaign, and should not pose a real threat to the Trojans. The Matadors finished last season 5-9, and were hit particularly hard by Covid-related postponements/cancellations with 10 games called off due to positive tests and/or exposures. CSUN will be coached this year by a familiar face in former Stanford Coach, Trent Johnson. CSUN's permanent coach, Mark Gottfried, has been placed on leave as the university investigates potential rules violations. While at NC State, Gottfried was tied to the pay for play scheme that shook college basketball, and ultimately lost his job due to the FBI's findings. Regardless, it will be Johnson back on the Galen Center sidelines come Tuesday night.
On the court, the Matadors will look very different than last year, leading scorer TJ Starks has moved on to the professional ranks, and the Matadors will be hard-pressed to replace his nearly 22 points per game. CSUN will look to Darius Brown II to fill the void left by Starks. Brown averaged 10.5 points per game last year, but showed flashes of scoring ability, particularly in a 25 point (and 13 assist) win against CSUF. Brown, who stands 6'2" will most likely draw a determined Ethan Anderson on the offensive side of the ball, which should be a fun matchup to watch.
CSUN also brings in 5 Division 1 transfers to its program, so it will be interesting to see how Coach Johnson mixes and matches his new pieces. Headlining the transfers are Darius Beane a 4th year Guard from Northern Illinois and Onyi Eyisis, a Center who makes the trip west from Fordham. Eyisis will draw a tough matchup inside as the Trojans have a bevy of size, and as 6'9" he will be looking up at the likes of Isaiah Mobley, Chevez Goodwin and Joshua Morgan.
While I do not expect the score to remain close, there will be many important decisions made early on this season.
First, the starting lineup. My best guess is that Andy will follow last year's formula and run out Boogie Ellis, Ethan Anderson, Drew Peterson, Isaiah White and Isiah Mobley? Does he allow Ethan to come off the bench and run the second unit and start Chevez Goodwin instead? Both are good options, and it may just depend on the size and speed of the opponent.
Question 2, how will Coach deploy the Freshman. Including Reese Dixon-Waters in this group, the Freshman are immensely talented, and I expect Andy to get both Malik Thomas and Harrison Hornery tons of early season work as they are both more than capable of contributing to this years team.
Question 3, depth. The Trojans roster is very deep, so deep that we have not even mentioned blog favorite Max Agbonkpolo. Max made great strides last year, and if he plays with just a bit more control, he is going to be a nightmare off the bench. Andy did a great job managing the minutes last year, and only Noah Baumann was left out. Andy will have an opportunity to make hockey-like substitutions and bring in 5 quality players off the bench.
Question 4, who fills the void left by Evan Mobley and Tahj Eaddy. In the most unsurprising news of the winter, Evan Mobley is very good, and the NBA is quickly learning. Mobley has been a force in the first month of the NBA season, earning praise from opponents all across the league. The easy answer here is his big brother Isaiah. Isaiah, has taken a back seat to his brother and Onyeka Okongwu the last two years, this year he is the guy. He showed a new type of aggression in the tournament last year, and while he lacks his younger brother's length, the aptitude and skill are both very much there.
Eaddy was the surprise of the 2020-2021 season, and provided a steady and calm presence in the starting lineup. Andy is hoping that Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis will do more of the same for this year's edition. Ellis is a hyper athletic guard, who has already earned high praise from both teammates and coaches. I expect an energetic start in his home debut.
I will be live-tweeting from the game tomorrow night, and expect to come home feeling positive about the showing. Looking forward to a great season!