For the second year in a row, USC’s season ended in the first round of the NCAA tournament, this time with a 72-62 loss to Michigan State.
It was a disappointing loss for the Trojans, given that their own offensive shortcomings played a major role in the defeat. But entering the season there was no guarantee this was even a tournament team. Only Drew Peterson and Boogie Ellis were key rotation pieces a year ago, and the Trojans had to rely on many untested freshmen and sophomores.
Only the team dynamic worked, and the young Trojans developed into some valuable role players.
Reese Dixon-Waters was Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year with his ability to score and defend off the bench. Kobe Johnson led the conference in steals and shot 36% from 3-point range. Tre White showed flashes as someone who can create his own shot. Joshua Morgan was an intimidating rim protector. Vincent Iwuchukwu had moments on offense when he was healthy enough to play. Kijani Wright developed into a reliable defender.
Which means, moving forward, all the pieces are in place to play around the dynamic force that is joining the team next year. We’ll touch more on him in a moment, but this season could end being looked at as a springboard to greater success in a year.
Two top-25 home wins over Auburn and UCLA certainly rank near the top of the list. So does a sweep of the Mountain road trip, something the Trojans never take for granted. And overcoming a season-opening loss to Florida Gulf Coast to finish tied for second in the Pac-12 was certainly an achievement. But the aforementioned player development will likely be the lasting legacy of this USC season.
It has to be the way the season ended. Losing to Arizona with outright second place on the line, almost blowing senior day to Arizona State only to come out completely flat in the Pac-12 tournament opener to the Sun Devils was bad enough. But that trend of slow starts and offensive droughts followed USC to Columbus as the Trojans shot 34.4% from the floor in the second half against Michigan State.
Peterson is graduating, while Ellis has made clear he intends to forgo his fifth season of eligibility and declare for the NBA draft. The pair did an admirable job leading these young Trojans as captains this season.
Though he had a tendency to be streaky, Peterson was always capable of stuffing a stat sheet in multiple ways. And he fought through back spasms over the course of the last three weeks of the season, refusing to miss a game despite his obvious discomfort.
Ellis’ blossoming into a true playmaker was one of the highlights of USC’s season. He arrived in Los Angeles in 2021 as a renowned scorer but an unbalanced game. But as his senior season progressed, he turned into a true point guard, impressing coaches and teammates with his decision making as he looked to make the right basketball play rather than just score.
Who’s on the fence
There’s no Mobley brother weighing an NBA decision this spring. Most of USC’s contributors are expected to stay for next season, though it’s possible there are a couple players who opt to transfer and create scholarship spots for head coach Andy Enfield and his staff.
Who’s on the way
The nation’s top overall recruit, point guard Isaiah Collier, should light the Galen Center up next season. He likes to push the tempo, running in transition and finishing with ferocious dunks. He has a smooth jumper and likes to drive to the rim with slippery moves. And most importantly, he is a true point guard who makes clever passes when his gravity inevitably pulls the defense in.
USC women fall to South Dakota State in OT in NCAA tournament
Pac-12 basketball: No, UCLA and USC won’t take their NCAA Tournament units to the Big Ten
USC’s offense disappears in NCAA tournament loss to Michigan State
USC seeks sharp start vs. Michigan State in NCAA tournament
USC’s Andy Enfield, 10 years later, has set a basketball standard
He’ll be joined by high school teammate and four-star center Arrinten Page. At 6-foot-9, Page is an athletic, high-flying big with impeccable chemistry with Collier. And four-star combo guard Silas Demary Jr. rounds out the recruiting class as a pure scorer.
As of now, all 13 scholarship slots are accounted for next year. But if anyone transfers out, USC would like to add another perimeter scorer who can create his own shot or a low post big who can take entry passes and find ways to score.