A month ago, I thought USC was poised to be the most improved team in the Pac-12. Now it looks like USC is crumbling under the weight of a tough schedule and inconsistent play and reminding folks of the team they were last year.
After losing to New Mexico, the Trojans are 3-5 and sitting at the bottom of the conference standings. They have lost four straight since beating Texas at the Maui Invitational. It gets no easier as the Trojans host No. 14 Minnesota.
So what’s happening? Why has USC has struggled so much out the gate. Well it starts with defense. In their last two losses – to Nebraska and New Mexico – the Trojans allowed more than 10 3-pointers. It’s hard to imagine a Kevin O’Neill coached team slacking that much on defense but that’s doomed the Trojans since they got lit up by Illinois earlier this year.
Another flaw? Poor offensive execution and turnovers. Jio Fontan is averaging 5.3 assists per game but also 2.9 turnovers which says that he might be forcing things a bit too much. I talked to a USC fan who added that the Trojans look lost in the half-court and when plays break down, there’s no offensive set to rely on. Anyone who’s played organized basketball knows that’s a problem because that leads to bad shots, indecisiveness and turnovers.
It might not be a stretch to say that O’Neill could be on the hot seat if things don’t improve because that’s not a problem with personnel. That’s coaching and for all of his greatness as a defensive master, you can’t just abandon offensive success. It’s clear that he didn’t learn his lesson when USC was the worst offensive team in the conference.
To be fair, USC’s schedule is one of the toughest in the Pac-12. Facing 3 ranked teams early on isn’t easy and I think it’ll make the Trojans tougher in the conference. They’ll probably be grateful to see UC Riverside and UC Irvine later this month so they can feast on easier competition.
Yet it’s hard to say whether or not USC will fix things by the time conference play starts. I think they will but right now, it’s still a long road back to respectability. Especially when scoring 60 points is no guarantee.
For more thoughts on the Pac-12, college hoops or anything sports-related, follow me on Twitter: @Evan_B