The USC men’s basketball team finished last season with an underwhelming 16-17 record, missing out on the NCAA and NIT tournaments. USC has not been historically known as a basketball powerhouse, stumbling in-and-out of the tournament the last couple of years and putting up subpar records in the Pac-12.
The 2019-2020 college basketball season could be the first step in changing that reputation. The Trojans kick off the new season against the Florida A&M Rattlers tonight at home, following an exhibition win over Villanova on Oct. 18.
USC will be entering this college basketball season with the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation, marking the Trojan’s highest rated assembly of newcomers since 2007. That year’s class was headlined by O.J. Mayo, who was drafted third overall to the Memphis Grizzlies after just one season at USC.
Head coach Andy Enfield recognizes the prestige of these incoming players, and isn’t afraid to put his team up to the challenge.
“They all come from winning programs,” he told the Orange County Register. Because of that, Enfield expects nothing less than excellence from these capable players. “Can you affect winning? Can you help your team win?”
One of the headliners of this recruiting class is 6’10 forward Isaiah Mobley. Mobley, a five star recruit from Murrieta, Calif., was ranked the No. 1 recruit from California and No. 4 power forward in the nation by 247Sports after last season. His athletic playing style should make an immediate impact for the Trojans, and many analysts predict he’ll soar to the top of NBA draft charts in 2020.
Freshman power forward Onyeka Okongwu is also stirring up conversation. Okongwu hails from a famed Chino Hills High School program, where he averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds per game in his senior year. He comes into this season as the No. 20 recruit in the nation according to ESPN.
Okongwu and Mobley are a welcome additions in terms of size. USC struggled with allowing offensive rebounds last season, ranking No. 295 nationally in that category. A potential help in that aspect of the game comes from senior forward Nick Rakocevic, who averaged around nine rebounds per game in 2018-19.
More talented Trojan freshmen are guards Kyle Sturvidant and Ethan Anderson, with small forward Max Agbonkpolo joining them on the wing.
USC won’t face much difficulty in the first half of the season, going through non-conference matchups with the likes of Pepperdine, Nevada, and San Diego State from now through December. The ease of its non-conference schedule could put USC at an advantage in the Pac-12 standings, which in turn might increase its chances of appearing in the NCAA tournament.
Difficulty starts to ramp up on Dec. 21, when the Trojans face No. 22 LSU at the Galen Center. USC begins Pac-12 play soon after against rivals UCLA, Stanford and Cal, programs that pose varying challenges to a young USC team. The Trojans take on their toughest opponent in No. 15 Oregon on Jan. 23.
With the talented roster the Trojans have accumulated, they’re likely to contend Pac-12 Championship and a chance to appear in the NCAA tournament.
USC tips off at 8 p.m. tonight in its home opener against Florida A&M. The game will be broadcasted nationally and streamed on the Pac-12 Network.