Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kevin O'Neill Takes Over USC

It's been a busy summer at USC, and basically all of the news has been bad, but I think they made as good of a hire as they could have by grabbing ex-Arizona coach Kevin O'Neill. It's been well known that USC has tried to grab big name coaches (like Jamie Dixon), and all have turned them down. The fact is that USC's basketball program is in horrible shape (I'll get to that in more detail in a moment), and things might get worse before they get better, and USC just doesn't have a big enough name to grab an elite coach when they're down (unlike Kentucky).

I think Kevin O'Neill is a better coach than he's been given credit for. Remember that Lute Olsen had originally picked him as the "coach in waiting" at Arizona, so he once had a very bright future. His tenure at Arizona was bumpy, but it wasn't all his fault. Olsen famously made things more difficult in his year off by talking to players behind O'Neill's back, and apparently actually separating the locker room between those loyal to O'Neill and those loyal to Olsen. Basically, he wasn't given a fair chance. I think O'Neill will be one coach who will find USC a fairly pleasant situation. He'll be given a long leash, with absolutely zero expectations this coming season. Nobody will be looking over his back, and he'll have the ability to build a program essentially from scratch. Will he ever build USC back to a Pac-10 contending team? Impossible to say right now. But we'll find out.

Now, let's talk a bit about where USC's team stands. The impetus for the collapse of the program began when it was first reported that Tim Floyd paid money to a handler of OJ Mayo. It then surprised nobody that every USC player that initially declared for the NBA Draft decided to stay in the Draft (DeMar DeRozen, Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson). Superduper recruit Renardo Sidney left. Star recruit Noel Johnson asked out of his commitment, and has just signed with Clemson (more on that in a post later today). Tim Floyd saw the writing on the wall and quit. The two other key recruits from the '09 class (Lamont Jones and Derrick Williams) have also asked out. The only recruit left is Evan Smith, rated the 156th best small forward in the nation according to ESPN.

There is still the potential of players transferring out, but for the time being nobody from last year's team has announced anything. So for the team being, USC still does have one legitimate Pac-10 starter in Dwight Lewis. Lewis will be expected to score 18-21 points per game if USC is going to even make a run at the NIT. They also have a couple of decent role players remaining, including Marcus Simmons and Leonard Washington. They also have a quality transfer in Alex Stephenson, from North Carolina. Those are all forwards, however. One thing you can't control when a ton of players leave at once is whether you have a good distribution around the floor. It would have been difficult enough replacing Daniel Hackett, who was one of the five best point guards in the nation last year. But USC will have almost no back court next season. They return two guards that played more than garbage minutes: Dwight Lewis and Donte Smith. Lewis, of course, will be very good. But Smith is not that impressive of a point guard, with 1.3 turnovers per assist in limited time last season. And beyond those two: who?

Kevin O'Neill's first task will have to be finding a couple of guards, either Juco recruits or something. After that, it's about building up the 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes. This coming season is going to be a loss, with almost no chance for postseason play. O'Neill will simply need to hope that the NCAA doesn't come down on the program and allows him to rebuild for the future.

No comments: