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Pac-12 Basketball Team Preview: Is It The Year Of The Trojans In The City Of Angels?

USC has long played in the shadow of UCLA. Does that change for the 2017-2018 season?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Baylor vs USC Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

USC Trojans

  • Last Season: 26-10 (10-8)
  • Head Coach: Andy Enfield (5th Season)
  • Projected Media Poll Finish: 2nd (251 Points - 1 First Place Vote)
  • Leading Returner In Scoring: Bennie Boatwright (15.1 PPG)
  • Leading Returner In Rebounds: Chimezie Metu (7.8 RPG)
  • Leading Returner In Assists: Jordan McLaughlin (5.5 APG)

The Skinny

For the first time in a long time in the City of Angels, USC may be looking like the better team on the hardwood.

The Trojans, who have long played in the shadow of their cross-town rivals in UCLA (at least when it comes to basketball), have been waiting for a revival of their stagnant program for the past few years. And yet, after seasons upon seasons of endless unforeseen roster turnover under fifth year head coach Andy Enfield, USC may finally have the depth chart in place to contend for a Pac-12 title. It’s now a question of how well the Trojans can manage some lofty expectations.

What USC has that most other squads in the country simply don’t have is an extremely dynamic balance between their back-court and front-court, where a bevy of legitimate all-conference level talents sit at Enfield’s disposal. Whether Enfield has to rely on veteran play-makers like Jordan McLaughlin (12.9 PPG) and Duke transfer Derryck Thornton (7.1 PPG) to handle the ball or he turns to more versatile options at the wing-spot in Elijah Stewart (12.3 PPG), De'Anthony Melton (8.3 PPG) and five-star prospect Charles O’Bannon Jr. to carry the load, the fact of the matter is that the Trojans have enough pieces in the back-court alone to contend for a top spot in the league.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California
Guard Jordan McLaughlin will have to lead a Trojans squad with some lofty expectations.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

And that’s not even discussing the front-court options.

USC returns their top two scorers from a season ago up-front, where the 6’ 10” duo of Bennie Boatwright (15.1 PPG) and Chimezie Metu (14.8 PPG) look ready to take the league by storm, if the towering combo can remain healthy and on-the-court. They’ll also be helped by Nick Rakocevic (5.2 PPG), a key interior presence who could use a more included role, as well as freshman like Jordan Usher, who showed an ability in high school to operate at times from the paint.

On paper, there’s no doubting the serious talent of this USC team but as we all know, games aren’t won and lost that way. The Trojans will have manage playing with pressure on them for once (just like their good friends at UCLA usually do) and find ways to not give games away in what could be a wide-open Pac-12 field.

Player To Know: Chimezie Metu (JR)

The league’s most improved overall player a season ago, USC forward Chimezie Metu is on the verge of stardom in the conference and likely is working his way to finding his names on NBA Draft boards. The only thing the 225-pound forward can do now to help his case is lead his team deep into March, as one half of one of college basketball’s best front-courts. In addition to averaging an astouding 14.8 points per game last season (a massive leap from 6.4 PPG the year prior), Metu also posted averaged of 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.4 assists per contest, as an all-around impact player for USC. Heading into the 2017-2018 season, Metu could be the make-or-break piece on the Trojans roster.

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at Arizona State
Nobody in the Pac-12 improved more than Chimezie Metu a season ago. He’ll likely continue his upward trend this season.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Key Non-Conference Games

  • 11/26 v. Texas A&M
  • 12/2 at SMU
  • 12/8 v. Oklahoma* (Hall of Fame Classic)