The game itself will play second fiddle Tuesday afternoon, as Coach Andy Enfield returns to Florida Gulf Coast, nine years after his Cinderella Sweet-16 run jump started his career. Many will remember the 15 seeded "Dunk City" Eagles team that took the nation by storm after knocking off #2 seeded Georgetown and then San Diego State, before ultimately falling to Florida in the Sweet-16. The fast-paced, alley-oop heavy style of play went viral and Enfield became a household name overnight.
At the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season, USC parted ways with former coach Kevin O'Neil, and quickly moved to hire the upstart Enfield. The early Enfield years mirrored some of the run-and-gun style that was effective at FGCU, but he has since established a more traditional game style, stressing defensive efficiency and a balanced inside/outside offensive attack. I must admit, I was not initially thrilled with the Enfield hire, I believed he was a trendy pick, with little track record as a head coach.
He inherited a depleted roster with limited talent, which led to a horrid conference record of 5-31 in his first two years. Enfield worked hard to establish USC as a basketball destination, and the fruits of his labor soon began to pay dividends on the recruiting trail, especially within Southern California. Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu were instrumental in the program's elevation, and Andy has not slowed down, bringing in 4 consecutive California Gatorade Players of the Year. Coach Enfield just picked up his 200th career win, and I expect the usually stoic Enfield to show some emotion as the 2012-2013 Eagles team is honored Tuesday afternoon in Fort Myers. There will be former players and coaches in attendance to witness the return of the "Prodigal Son."
On the court, the newly ranked #25 Trojans should enter the game with a sense of purpose. A huge lead in Philadelphia against Temple nearly slipped away, and it should prove to be a teachable moment for this year's team. No lead is safe, and complete focus must be maintained no matter the score. The Eagles enter 1-1, after falling to Loyola-Chicago Saturday night. The Eagles defeated Florida National in their season opener.
The Eagles are led by Tavian Dunn-Martin, who enters his redshirt Senior season after stops at Akron and Duquesne. Dunn-Martin has scored nearly 1000 points in his career, and is deadly from 3. The guard only stands 5'8" but his quickness allows him to create his own shot and he shows no hesitation to launch a shot from deep, think Trae Young meets former ASU/current Kansas Guard Remy Martin. Dunn-Martin is a perfect matchup for Ethan Anderson. Anderson is lightning quick, tough and physical. Dunn-Martin tallied 34 points in his first game for the Eagles against Loyola-Chicago, converting 9-14 three pointers. We have only seen flashes of a press thus far, but Andy may utilize full court pressure to exhaust the Eagles number one scoring threat, and just shuttle in fresh legs with some regularity.
Joining Dunn-Martin in the starting lineup will be 6'3" Guard Cyrus Largie, 6'6" Austin Richie, 6'5" Caleb Catto and 6'11" Kevin Samuel. Largie is the next best scorer and will be relied on to lessen the load on Dunn-Martin. The Eagles will have a tough task defensively, as like Temple, they will be outsized inside. Chevez Goodwin and Isaiah Mobley should be able to use their size to dominate the blocks. Michael Fly may try and use a zone to force the ball out of the inside, and USCs shooters must be ready to go. Boogie Ellis had a rough game against Temple, but look for him to have a big game this afternoon.
I expect Anderson to get the starting nod, as the Trojans will most likely return to the opening night starting lineup.
G - Anderson
G - Ellis
G - Peterson
F - Mobley
F - Goodwin
I would love to see USC jump out front quickly, and show that they are capable of keeping the pedal down for 40 minutes. This is a game USC should win without much hullaballoo, and I know the team wants to get this win for Andy.
Road wins and the experiences that come with them are important. At some point in this season, USC will need a Freshman to step up, and games like these should provide an opportunity for some meaningful minutes. Particularly, I would love to see Malik Thomas get some run time especially with some of the other starters.
I expect the Trojans to improve to 3-0, and win by 15-20 points.