I been called "delusional" more than once...and I get it.
For many years, I placed a parlay bet in Las Vegas for both USC's football and basketball teams to hoist the trophy at the end of the season. If I remember correctly, the last time I made such a bet, my $100 bet would have paid in excess of $50,000. While I no longer make the same bet, I do still invest a good deal of emotion into Trojan athletics.
I proudly wear my cardinal and gold colored lenses when I write these reports, and when I watch the game, so forgive me for being a tad bit excited about what I saw last night.
From the opening tip to the final seconds of the game, USC executed to near perfection in all facets of the game. The Trojans were crisp, tenacious, energetic and fun. And as crazy as it may sound, the game was not as close as the final 89-49 score would indicate.
The Trojans were flat out impressive!
In my pre-game report, I asked a series of questions that Coach Enfield would need to address sooner rather than later.
The Starting Lineup
Andy flipped the script on me a little bit here, running a starting five of, Boogie Ellis, Ethan Anderson, Drew Peterson, Isaiah Mobley and Chevez Goodwin. Those who have observed practice throughout the fall have stated that the only "locks" in the starting lineup each night are Boogie and Isaiah. Andy will have his pick of 8 bodies to mix and match against any opponent. Against an undersized CSUN Team, Coach opted to started two guards to match the perimeter speed, and two big men to overwhelm the Matadors inside. I suspect that Coach will utilize different lineups until he finds one that meshes particularly well together. In last night's game, Boogie Ellis was fantastic and led the Trojans with 20 points on 9-11 shooting. He showed comfort at all three levels, converting shots at the rim (including a massive breakaway dunk), midrange jump shots and from deep, as he knocked down 2-4 from beyond the arc. Isaiah Mobley picked up right where he left off last March, draining a three on the opening possession. He finished with 15 points and 9 boards (he also made all three of his FT attempts). Drew Peterson had another efficient game, scoring 14 points on 7-10 shooting, he will continue to be a matchup nightmare for smaller wings or guards. He was consistently able to get to his spot, and once there, able to elevate for open looks.
For the most part, the Freshman received garbage time minutes, when the game was well out of reach. That being said, one has to be excited about what the group looked like. Andy was able to get all four freshman into the game. Reese Dixon-Waters led the way with 13 minutes, followed by Kobe Johnson with 9 and Harrison Hornery and Malik Thomas both with 3. The Trojans finished the game with all four on the court joined by Boubacar Coulibaly. To the eye, these do not look like Freshman, they are big, strong and developed. Dixon-Waters and Thomas are built like free safeties, and move with ease. I was particularly impressed with the play of Kobe Johnson. Coach Enfield has raved about his diamond in the rough, jack-of-all trades guard, and it only took a few minutes to see why. Standing at 6'6" we saw Johnson run point and deliver a gorgeous pass to Coulibaly for an uncontested two-handed dunk. He moves effortlessly, and is going to be a problem for opposing teams now, and in the future. Thomas was the only one of the group not to score, but expect the reigning California Gatorade Player of the Year to find points as his minutes increase. Minutes will be hard to come by on this team, but overall talent may force Andy's hand a bit as the season progresses.
12 of the 13 Trojans who entered the game also entered the scoring column. While the starters accounted for 62 of the Trojans' 89 points, the bench kept consistent energy on the court. Isaiah Mobley led the Trojans with minutes with 27, but 5 bench players tallied double-digit minutes. What a tremendous luxury for Coach Enfield. Undoubtedly, there will be games where the starters are cold. It is unlikely that all 12 contributors will be cold on the same night. Isaiah White and Max Agbonkpolo are proven, and improving commodities, and both provide tough matchups off the bench. There will be games where Ethan Anderson comes off the bench to lead the second unit, and I have no qualms with that. Andy also featured a lineup including both Joshua Morgan and Coulibaly, and they gave CSUN fits. Coulibaly received a ton of praise over the offseason from the coaches, as he has refined much of his raw ability. He contributed 7 points on 2-3 shooting, and also converted 3-4 from the line. He possesses a very smooth shooting stroke, and as he gains comfort in the offense his minutes will increase. As we know, Morgan was Defensive POY in the Big West during his Freshman Year at Long Beach State, and we received our first glimpse of a healthy Morgan last night. He blocked a shot, and disrupted about 8 others inside. The sheer length of the Trojans will intimidate many opponents. Andy mentioned in his post-game comments that the team was excited to play against somebody other than themselves, and we saw that. By all accounts, practices have been intense and uber-competitive. Everybody wants playing time, and practice will be the best way to get there. Beyond this year, the Trojans have a great crop of young talent, and it will be very interesting to see how Andy develops them throughout the year.
Filling the Gap
Simply put, Mobley and Ellis were fantastic in their season debuts. Granted, CSUN is not Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina, but there is no doubt that the ability is there. Ellis is not the same player as Eaddy. Ellis is twitchier and quicker than Eaddy, he is extremely athletic and able to create on his on own, and he is my early season favorite to take last shots. Mobley showcased his range in the tournament, and was able to get buckets at the rim and from the perimeter last night. He played strong defense and looked more aggressive inside. This duo, and really the whole team, carried a ton of confidence into the season opener.
Important Game Notes
The final score should be a good indication, but the Trojans shot 56% from the field and held the Matadors to 33%. USC was quick to rotate, closed-out well and did not over-pursue passing lanes. The Trojans managed 8 steals, forced 14 turnovers overall and held CSUN under 50 points. USC did turn it over 10 times, but I believe 5 or 6 of them occurred on the baseline with players stepping an inch or two out of bounds, this will get cleaned up.
The team conducted a pre-game ring ceremony and banner unveiling for its Elite 8 appearance last year. Count me as one who is not a fan of this move. The team has every right to be proud, but we did not "win" anything, nor do I think Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are handing our rings for Elite 8s. I know that we are working to establish the brand as a basketball powerhouse, I am just not sure this is the best way to do that. Keep recruiting, and keep winning, the true rings will show up sooner rather than later.
Respect must be given to the Student Section who sold out their area tonight. A 6:00 Tuesday night game is a tough proposition (it took me over an hour to get to the Galen Center from Culver City), but the students were loud and ready to cheer! I hope they maintain that type of energy throughout the season.
1-0 and on to Temple!