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College Basketball

USC, Memphis in need of better luck after disappointing seasons

The old axiom is that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, but for each college basketball team that finds good fortune in a given season, there are others that suffer at luck's fickle hand. After last season's luck column looked strong in retrospect, it would have been easy to cherry-pick a few statistically unlucky teams that brought in big talent -- UCLA and Arizona both fit the bill -- but this year's version will dig a bit deeper for teams that could be very relevant come March.

Whether hampered by injury, inexperience or plain ol' injustice, these teams all lost several more games than they should have last season, based on their overall offensive and defensive efficiencies. All five finished in the bottom 50 in Ken Pomeroy's "luck" rankings, meaning that with some newfound maturity, health and/or a couple more favorable bounces, these teams could take jumps in 2012-13.

The Trojans' 2011-12 season was wrecked when point guard Jio Fontan went down with a preseason knee injury. What was going to be an offensively-challenged team in a best-case scenario instantly transformed into something terribly unsightly. As Dr. Seuss might say, they could not shoot in their abode. They could not shoot when on the road. They could not shoot from two or three. They could not shoot it, can't you see? But what they could do was defend. And now they have Fontan again.

Fontan's recovery will remain a question mark until he can prove his effectiveness on the floor, but if he stays healthy, the Trojans should have enough solid pieces around him to take a significant jump into the gap behind the leaders in a top-heavy Pac-12. Maurice Jones was battle-tested last season and 7-footer DeWayne Dedmon returns from his own knee injury. Add in Byron Wesley and a bunch of transfers, including former Wake Forest guard J.T. Terrell, and in what could be a crucial season in L.A. for Kevin O'Neill, he should have enough scoring to win games with his typically stingy defense.

Last season's luck column featured an A-10 Saint which authored a significant turnaround on its way to an NCAA berth. Can the Hawks write a similar story? A very (very, very) young team made it to 20-14 last season, losing a tough decision to Northern Iowa in the first round of the NIT. Their top seven minutes guys were a junior, five sophomores and a freshman. Now everyone is returning with more experience in an Atlantic 10 that should see some weakness from traditional powers Xavier and Temple.

The program had a six-year run around the 2004 Elite Eight appearance where it averaged an RPI in the high 30s. That's a reasonable target for this season. Forward C.J. Aiken did well carrying a bigger offensive burden last season and is primed to become a breakout player on the national level.

What's a 26-9 team doing on this list? Well, when you return almost every important piece (except Will Barton, who left after his sophomore year and was a second-round NBA pick), bring in freshman big man Shaq Goodwin, and coach Josh Pastner continues to mature with his roster, there's room for improvement from a first-round NCAA exit. If lead guard Joe Jackson can provide consistency and Tarik Black can have the breakout season many expected from him last year, this is a dangerous team that once again should have C-USA for the taking in their conference swan song. They don't have the league tourney on their home floor as a safety net, but the Tigers shouldn't need that in terms of an NCAA ticket.

Relative to their normal roster distribution, the Aggies were young last season, and it showed on both ends of the floor. With inefficient, high-usage guard Brockeith Pane gone, this is now very much Preston Medlin's show. With Kyisean Reed also back to provide inside scoring, expect USU to return to their normally high-efficiency ways on offense and be better on the defensive end, as well.

The Aggies will also play 18 of their 30 regular-season games at the Spectrum, where they have been virtually untouchable throughout the years, and the WAC has been weakened by the exit of Nevada (and Fresno State) and the import of D-I minnows Seattle and Texas-Arlington (along with the final team on this list). Expect a strong showing in their WAC finale before the Aggies head to the Mountain West in 2013-14.

Coming over from the Sun Belt, where they lost an excruciating number of close games, the Pioneers should immediately be a contender in their first (and perhaps only?) season in the WAC. The graduation of sharpshooter Brian Stafford will hurt, but with Chris Udofia, Royce O'Neale, Chase Hallem and Brett Olson back, the Pios should have more than enough scoring out of Joe Scott's Princeton offense.

Coming off a 22-9 campaign, Denver will be a difficult assignment for the league as the Pios thrive in a system that controls the three-point arc on both ends of the floor. Denver was in the nation's top 15 in both highest percentage of shots taken from behind the arc on offense and lowest percentage of shots allowed from three defensively.

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