Key Departures: Charles Buggs
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jordan McLaughlin (Sr.)
SG: Elijah Stewart (Sr.)
SF: Charles O’Bannon Jr. (Fr.)
PF: Bennie Boatwright (Jr.)
PF: Chimezie Metu (Jr.)
Key Reserve Players:
PG: Derryck Thornton II (RS So.), SG: De’Anthony Melton (So.), SF: Shaqquan Aaron (RS Jr.), SG: Jonah Mathews (So.), C: Nick Rakocevic (So.), PF: Harrison Henderson (So.), SF: Jordan Usher (Fr.), C: Victor Uyaelunmo (Fr.)
The Trojans return virtually all of their scoring from a season ago. Jordan McLaughlin, now a senior, will lead the way at point guard for Andy Enfield’s offense. McLaughlin trailed only Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz in assists per game for the Pac-12 last year (not bad company to be in). He will need to continue to be the facilitator for this year’s team, which is loaded with talent around him. McLaughlin is joined by Elijah Stewart in the backcourt, forming a very good, experienced guard combination. If both McLaughlin and Stewart can be 40+ percent 3-point shooters for their senior years (which they are both capable of), it adds a consistent and dangerous element to this team. Derryck Thornton, the transfer from Duke is definitely a capable starter, but I have him running the offense off the bench. Things didn’t work out for him in Durham, so he decided to attend a school closer to home. Thornton, the former five-star, is a good ball-handler, and will provide shooting/passing off the bench. I chose to insert the talented freshman out of Bishop Gorman, Charles O’Bannon Jr., into the starting lineup in place of De’Antony Melton. The McDonald’s All-American adds more size on the wing. Although he possesses an unorthodox release, he is a gifted scorer and perimeter shooter. This USC squad will be absolutely ridiculous from 3-point range.
Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu might be the two biggest reasons why USC will be so good this year. Along with McLaughlin and Stewart, they are the other two players who averaged double figures in scoring last year, and they were also the top two guys. Boatwright was plagued by an a knee injury last year, and didn’t play in 17 games. Boatwright knows how to put the ball in the basket, he is versatile, can stretch the floor, and will be a player to watch when it comes to Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. He is a serious matchup problem. I am very glad that he didn’t choose to go to the NBA. Metu adds good length and athleticism down low at 6’11”. He is fundamentally sound in the paint and around the rim, displaying an ability to hit jump-hooks, in addition to his post moves and footwork. With his length, he will be a very important piece on the defensive end as well for the Trojans. Metu is a very efficient player, which was seen firsthand in their loss to Baylor in last year’s NCAA tournament run. He scored 28 points on 11-14 shooting from the floor, in 33 minutes.
Many people say that in order to make a deep run in March, you need really good guard play. USC has guards all over the place. In addition to the starters, and Thornton, De’Anthony Melton and Jonah Mathews are two more guards in this rotation. They both played significant minutes as freshmen (both over 20 mpg), and will be more than well prepared for their sophomore campaigns. Shaqquan Aaron and Jordan Usher will compete for minutes at the three. Both players add good size at 6’7″. Usher brings some physicality on both ends of the court, and it will be interesting to see how many minutes he gets as a freshman.
Nick Rakocevic could see an increase in playing time as a sophomore behind Metu. He was efficient when on the floor last year as a freshman, he moves well as a big, and knows his role. Harrison Henderson and Victor Uyaelunmo add even more depth and size on this roster. Uyaelunmo has the chance to be a really good rim protector and shot blocker.
USC is going to be a super fun team to watch this year. They have depth and experience at every position. They are loaded. They will be right behind Arizona in the Pac-12, and I have them at number nine in my preseason rankings. Keep in mind, Marvin Bagley has USC on his radar.