Updated: Oct 8, 2021
As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just about one month from now, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling on November 9th at Madison Square Garden.
And to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.
On Wednesday we began the series with the Indiana Hoosiers, and today, we look at the USC Trojans. Coming off an Elite Eight run, Evan Mobley may be gone. But there is plenty of other talent back, including Evan's older brother Isaiah, plus reinforcements through the transfer portal. Could this team make another, second weekend run?
Also to read Aaron's preseason Top 25 - click here
How it went down in 2020-21
The USC Trojans exceeded all expectations last season, finishing with a 25-8 record and defeating Drake, Kansas and Oregon en route to the program’s first Elite 8 appearance since 2001.
Quietly it marked a fifth 20-win season in six years for Andy Enfield, and had there been an NCAA Tournament in 2020, the Trojans would have four tourney bids over that six years as well.
Still, 2021 was a dream season for the Trojans, even under the difficult circumstances that Covid brought along. With star freshman Evan Mobley heading to the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year’s NBA Draft, the Trojans garner the same attention they did last year. Still, what they lack in star power, they make up for in depth.
“Losing Evan, a lot of teams are probably counting us out a little bit,” senior guard Drew Peterson told Aaron Torres Online in an exclusive interview. “We’re 47-17 over the last two years and we have no plans to do any worse record-wise than we did last year. We know what it takes and we’ve got the experience, so we’re ready to make another tournament run, a final run and a national championship.”
What You Need to Know About 2021-2022:
Key Returnees: Isaiah Mobley, Drew Peterson, Isaiah White, Ethan Anderson, Reese Dixon-Waters
Key Losses: Evan Mobley, Tahj Eaddy
Key Transfers: Boogie Ellis
Key Recruits: Kobe Johnson, Malik Thomas, Harrison Hornery
Over the offseason, Peterson has grown to 6-foot-9 and says he plans on taking over more of the point guard role this season.
“I know I’m going to have to be a leader on this team for us to do a lot of things this year,” he said. “Bringing back veteran leadership and the skills I have, I’m hoping to really help us potentially make a deep tournament run.”
Peterson is one of three returning starters from last year’s team, which will be led by junior forward Isaiah Mobley. Last season, playing alongside his younger brother, Mobley averaged 9.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from beyond the arc. With Evan out of the picture, Isaiah is expected to carry a heavier load for the Trojans this year, and he should be able to handle it after an NCAA Tournament where he scored double-figures in all four games the USC played. That included a 19-point performance in a losing effort to Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.
The backcourt will be headed by newcomer Boogie Ellis, who joined the team as a transfer after spending the last two seasons at Memphis. Ellis, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard out of San Diego, CA, earned co-Sixth Man of the Year honors in the AAC last season after averaging 10.2 points per game on 38.6 percent from three-point range.
“He’s going to be a big help for us this year,” Peterson said of Ellis. “He brings a lot of energy and skill, a lot of athleticism. He’s a piece that we’ll bring and add. He can fit in a lot of places on the floor. He’ll always be an energy guy for us with his ability to pass, score and do a little bit of everything for us. That will be crucial for our success. We’re hoping he fits a nice hole on our team and hopefully leads us to victories.”
USC will have its hands full at the start of the season with the potential for several non-conference games against teams that made last year’s NCAA Tournament. Starting off with a home matchup against CSUN, the Trojans will then hit the road for a road matchup at Temple on Nov. 13 and another road game against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 16. After heading home for a contest with Dixie State on Nov. 22, the Trojans will head to Anaheim to compete in the Wooden Legacy at the Anaheim Convention Center. USC will play Saint Joseph’s on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25 before facing off with either Georgetown or San Diego State on Nov. 26. The Aztecs are a team that should once again be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth, after adding Cal transfer Matt Bradley this off-season.
USC will open conference play with a home contest against Utah on Dec. 1 and a road contest at Washington State on Dec. 4 before hosting three consecutive non-conference buy games against the likes of Eastern Kentucky, Long Beach State and UC-Irvine. Irvine should again be a threat in the Big West, where they were a game away from the NCAA Tournament last year. Finally, the Trojans wrap out of conference play with two big ones: Georgia Tech in a December 18th game in Phoenix, and Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City on December 21st.
The Yellow Jackets are of course the reigning ACC Tournament champ, while Oklahoma State again looks to have an NCAA Tournament caliber team, even in the post-Cade Cunningham era.
Conference play shouldn’t be any easier this season, opening the first full week of conference games with home matchups against Arizona and Arizona State the week of Dec. 29-Jan. 2. The Trojans will also have to face 2021 NCAA Tournament teams Oregon, Oregon State and crosstown rivals UCLA throughout the early part of 2022.
The Pac-12 is loaded as ever and the Trojans will have their hands full as they look to win the program’s 15th league championship.
What to Expect in 2021-2022
And at the end of the day, when it comes to USC basketball, it’s all going to come down to defense and experience.
“We’ve been top-10 defensively the last two years and we’re hoping to continue that,” Peterson said. “We also have a lot of length. We’re hoping to impose our will on teams. It’s going to be a little different without having a guy like Evan, a lottery pick, but with all the experience we have coming back, it’ll be a little more of a team-focused game.”
While Isaiah Mobley flashed some of his potential last season, he’s expected to have a much larger role this year. If the Trojans can max out the potential of Boogie Ellis, while integrating new pieces such as Reese Dixon-Waters and Malik Thomas, the Trojans will be in good shape to make another NCAA Tournament run.
After finishing last season averaging 13.9 assists per game (139th in the nation), USC will look to distribute the ball more evenly, especially without a true superstar like Evan Mobley. The Trojans finished last season 46th in the nation in defense, allowing 65.1 points per game. With a focus on defense this year, expect this team to remain a top-50 defensive squad.
For more college hoops coverage, make sure to follow Jacob Polacheck on Twitter @JacobPolacheck
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